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Sunday, February 23, 2014

My How Things Have Changed...Or Have They? (Paralympic Edition)

First, announcements....

Money for the March 29 Kings game is due to Todd ASAP. Please get it to him by Tuesday, February 25 because he has to turn it all in to the Kings by Friday, March 1. If you need to pay by credit card instead of check, email us immediately at and we'll send you the details to do that. Anyone can buy tickets and sit in our suite, but athletes registered on our team who attend will also be able to do an on-ice demo between periods during the Kings game. The Kings are playing the Winnipeg Jets that night.

On Monday, February 24, PBS stat
ions will air "Ice Warriors" about USA's sled hockey team going to Sochi.  Most Southern California PBS stations will air it at 10:00 PM (but check your local listings), so stay up or set your DVR. I do not know if they will re-air it. You do not want to miss this. Here in our area (Inland Empire/Orange County), KOCE Ch. 50 will air it at 10 PM.

Do you remember when Rico Roman and Jen Lee came to our rink? Yep, they're on the team going to Sochi for the Paralympics, and they'll be in "Ice Warriors", so watch it. 

Rico Roman, forward for the USA National Team talking to athletes at a clinic at Icetown Riverside in 2010.

Jen Lee, back up goalie for USA National Team giving Summer pointers at Icetown, Riverside in 2011. Is it any wonder Summer later became our goalie?

Kings Weekly should be airing our sled hockey episode soon. New episodes debut every Thursday, so watch. If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, we'll keep you updated on the Kings Weekly schedule as it concerns sled hockey.

Alex Curry is being filmed trying out a sled for an episode of Kings Weekly.

Group shot of some of our athletes with Alex Curry while filming for Kings Weekly.

Upcoming practices are: 

  • February 24
  • March 3
  • March 10
  • March 17
  • March 24
  • March 31
  • April 7

All practices are at LA Kings Icetown in Riverside (10540 Magnolia Ave.) New players are always welcome. Contact Todd and Christie for more information. Sleds and sticks are available for you to borrow.

On March 15 we are planning to have a special gold medal brunch while we watch the gold medal Paralympic sled hockey game. Talk to Todd and Christie for details. 

The Disabled Hockey Festival is coming up April 11-13 in Boston. We're trying to raise some funds, and come up with new ideas for fundraisers, so we can send some athletes to this very important event.

And now for some thoughts on disabled hockey....

When we were considering starting a sled hockey program in Southern California, a man named Eric Le Marque found out about our fledgling program and contacted us. He was living in Southern California and was a spokesperson for Easton Hockey. Honestly, I had no idea who he was at first, but after googling him, I learned some interesting things. He was a hockey player who even played in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway for the French hockey team. Previous to that, he had been drafted by the Boston Bruins, though he spent his time playing in the minor and European leagues. By 2004, he had retired from professional hockey and was snowboarding in Mammoth when he got lost and spent days in the snow. When he finally got rescued, medical personnel at the hospital decided they could not save his legs, so he became a double above-the-knee amputee.
If you're interested in buying Eric Le Marque's book from Amazon so you can read the full story of his journey and rescue, click here.

My first thought was, "Great! This guy obviously knows hockey. Maybe he could play on our team, or even coach." In speaking to Mr. Le Marque, however, it became clear that he was supportive and optimistic about starting a sled hockey team out here, but he was not interested in being part of it. Instead, he said he wanted to be the first hockey player to make the Olympics on prosthetic legs. I have not had much contact with Mr. Le Marque since the initial conversations, but he was obviously not participating in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. In four years, when the Olympics are in PyeongChang, Mr. Le Marque will be 48 years old. Nothing is impossible, but the odds of him making that dream come true are slim at any age, and certainly skeletal at his age. 

Now, we have a full program with regular practices and semi-regular competitions, including traveling to tournaments. We have excellent coaching and dedicated athletes, some of whom are knocking on the door for the 2018 or 2022 Paralympics. On February 22, some of the team members took part in HockeyThon at San Joaquin Community Hospital Ice Center in Bakersfield. HockeyThon is a 24-hour hockey fundraiser for breast cancer awareness where athletes take pledges in order to play hockey in the event. Event organizers wanted a sled hockey component, so we brought extra sleds for standing hockey players to use when they played against the sled hockey players. They were, of course, frustrated because they couldn't score any goals while the sled hockey players lost count after 12 (and they even switched goalies to try to make it more fair), but the overwhelming response was "respect" as the able-bodied athletes got off the ice.

Some of the able-bodied athletes take on our sled hockey athletes at HockeyThon in Bakersfield. 

As part of the HockeyThon event, we were given free vouchers to that night's Bakersfield Condors game. Some of us went and enjoyed watching the Condors take on the Las Vegas Wranglers. In one of the intermissions, the Condors brought out a former Condor player who they introduced as an amputee. The sled hockey players in the stands looked at each other. "Did the announcer just say amputee?"

Luckily, we were able to look him up using our phones. His name is Sean Venedam, and he had both of his legs when he played with the Condors. During a game in 2008, he was hit by a Utah Grizzlies player and that hit shattered his tibia and fibula. At first, doctors tried to save the leg, but after many surgeries and an infection, the decision was made to amputate the leg. Venedam now co-owns a sporting goods store in Canada and was in Bakersfield for the game that night.

Pedro and Nick decided to track him down. "He's here in the arena," Pedro said. "We know that. We can try to e-mail him later, or we can try to find him here now." I couldn't argue with Pedro's logic, so we went on a field trip around the arena to see if we could track down Mr. Venedam. Bakersfield is the sort of place where you might be able to meet a special guest just for asking, so we were able to finagle a meeting with Mr. Venedam during the second period of the game when the President of the Condors escorted us down to the Zamboni gate. 

Steven, Nick, Sean Venedam, Christie, and Pedro 

Mr. Venedam plays standing amputee hockey, and he was recounting the difficulty of getting the sport added to the Paralympics. "There just aren't very many teams. It's not like sledge hockey, where lots of countries have teams." He was very gracious and humble and spent a lot of time talking with Pedro and Nick about hockey.

On the drive home, I thought about our encounter with Mr. Venedam and compared that with our encounter with Mr. Le Marque. Both players were exceedingly nice and professional. One wanted nothing to do with the Paralympics and Paralympic sports, while the other was hoping to see his sport added into the Paralympic lineup. Taking it one step further, athletes like Pedro and Wes, both amputees on the LA Kings sled hockey team are busy playing a sport that is recognized and celebrated by the Paralympics, and many of the players going to Sochi on the US National Team (and the national teams of other countries as well) are single and double amputees. 

Paralympic players are gaining attention. Rico Roman from the USA National Sled Hockey Team is featured on a plastic McDonalds drink cup this year. FYI, if any of you can find said cup and get it to us clean and in good shape, I will love you forever. We haven't found them around here so far.

The word that came to mind on that three hour drive was options. Are things perfect? No, but disabled athletes today have more options than ever before for learning a sport, friendly competition, and even national and international competition. Will standing amputee hockey ever become a recognized Paralympic sport? I don't know but I'm guessing it's only a matter of time, and the fact that people like Mr. Venedam are working so hard to get it recognized as a viable international sport is a positive development. The fact that Mr. Le Marque even thought playing in the Olympics as a double amputee was in the realm of possibility shows not only his determination, but also society's evolving understanding as to what it means to be disabled and able-bodied. The fact that many sled hockey teams have able bodied athletes who play on that team for a variety of reasons shows that society is starting to look at disabled sports not so much as "second best," but simply "different" and worthwhile for all. The fact that able bodied players attempted sled hockey earlier that day in Hockey Thon and came off the ice with a newfound respect for disabled athletes shows our society is starting to see disabled athletes as skilled and talented. 

Kings alumnus Craig Johnson tries out a hockey sled at one of our clinics.

Have you noticed people's attitudes about disabled sports and disabled athletes changing? How? These are some questions to ponder as you go through March watching the Paralympics.

The Paralympics will air on NBC and NBCSN. To see the schedule, click here.  You will also be able to watch some competitions online here.  

USA's sled hockey team (called "sledge hockey" in the Paralympics) will be playing the round robin portion of the tournament:

  • March 8 at 4:30 AM PST against Italy
  • March 9 at 5:30 AM PST against Korea
  • March 11 at 5:30 AM PST against Russia. 
  • They will also be playing on March 13 and March 15 for the elimination and medal games. 

They will be defending their gold medal from Vancouver, and if they win, USA will be the first country to win back to back golds. This is a difficult feat, obviously, but it is certainly something that can happen since USA is currently the only country that has two Paralympic gold medals in sledge hockey (2002 and 2010). Don't forget to watch our country's team make history!

This is why it is a very big deal that LA Kings Sled Hockey is a Paralympic Sport Club.