The Sled Cats faced the Montréal Dragons last Sunday afternoon at Cairns Arena in South Burlington. The Sled Cats have only been a team for three years, and this was their third game this year. In fact, it was their third sled-hockey game ever.
It was just like any other hockey game, with the same rules and time limits, except for one difference: These players sat on small sleds with one double-bladed skate, rather than navigating the rink with skates on their feet. Their legs were strapped in around their thighs and ankles, and in their hands they held two miniature hockey sticks with little metal picks on the ends of the handles. These helped the players maneuver on the ice and gain momentum.
Most of the spectators seemed to be families: wives with their young children watching daddy play; parents of students in the league. Rick Davis was there to cheer on his son, Jordan Carroll, who had been injured in December '06 in a snowboarding accident.
"It's so important that these guys go out here and do this," said Davis. "My son gets off the ice and is always telling me, 'I'm playing with my people, Dad.'"
Sled hockey is only one of the many sports for individuals with injuries and disabilities like Jordan's. The Northeast Disabled Athletic Association (NDAA) is a nonprofit organization that sponsors teams like the Sled Cats, as well as sports such as basketball, tennis, sailing, skiing and more. The organization was founded by Patrick Standen and his wife, Beth, and is run completely by volunteers.
"Our first major sport for the NDAA was hockey. It's been a great feeling to see the program grow," said Standen, player #13 for the Sled Cats. "People are beaming when they're done playing - they're happy."
The final score of the game was undetermined because, at the end of the second quarter, the more experienced and athletic Dragons decided they would use some "international diplomacy," as Standen put it, and mix the two teams for a final, more even third quarter. Although the Dragons still won the game, the joy in the Sled Cats' eyes was evidence that it didn't matter at all.