Nope, not in Paris, France. Not even close. This conference was in Vegas, and despite the fact that casinos such as Paris (pictured) and Bellagio were in the vicinity and calling us, a bunch of people from sled hockey programs in the Western United States (and some from states that might not be considered exactly Western) descended on Las Vegas for the first ever Western Sled Hockey Conference put on by USA Hockey.
One treat of the conference was that the entire US National Team was there in Las Vegas with us. They had practice every evening, and they also had a social activity with the rest of us (not to mention meeting them in the elevator and lobby because we were all staying at the same hotel). It was important to see how good sled hockey was done. Most of the programs represented dealt with beginner and intermediate players of the game, and it was good to get tutorials about how the excellent players cradle the puck and turn their sleds.
Since all of this talent was in Las Vegas, it was a good time for the Vegas sled program to hold a clinic. I doubt this little boy knew he was being helped by Josh Pauls, one of the best sled hockey players in the world. The boy in the background probably didn't realize he was getting his sled adjusted by Bill Sandberg, the equipment manager of the US National Team.
The conference itself was extremely informative. There were sessions about creating a sled hockey organization, equipment management, coaching (both on and off the ice), fund raising, off-ice training (shoulder and back exercises), and many other topics.
There were many people from California, including us, Kay Robertson, Rhonda and Mel Waidmann (starting a program in Oxnard), Kellie and Chris Hays (Disabled Hockey Pacific District Director), Steve Laing (CA USA Hockey Pacific District Director), Scott Hay (starting a program in Bakersfield), and Trooper Johnson (starting a program in Oakland). Above is a picture of all of us plotting how we're going to take over the world... or at least organize sled hockey in California.
In addition to the seminars, we had some on-ice time to try the sleds and learn coaching/playing skills to take back to our programs. Above, Keith Blase is using Taylor Lipsett and Taylor Chace to show us skills.
We even got to try out sleds and see how difficult the sport was. We mastered getting around on the ice pretty well, but stopping was another story! It is very difficult to use sticks to make yourself move and for puck handling at the same time. Many skills take the use of both sides of the body, both sides of the brain, and the ability to multi-task to another level. Our sled hockey players are super intelligent in order to play this game well!
The Waidmanns also got on the ice. They came out to our clinic in September, and their kids loved it so much they have committed to starting a program in Oxnard, closer to their own home.
Of course, being Vegas, we did have some time to play in other ways as well. Above, Kyung-Moon Shin, a South Korean transplant to California, eats sushi with Brock Waidmann. We're in the background, enjoying our sushi as well.
We didn't win big at the slots or cards in Vegas. However, the information and contacts we got from the conference were so incredibly valuable that we feel much richer. More importantly, our program will be richer as well.