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DULUTH - Hockey is second nature for the University of
Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog hockey team, but for one day the sport they know so
well suddenly felt a little foreign.
"We're just hoping to score one goal. We don't want to
get shutout in our first game in Duluth so it's going to be a good time. We're
not really expecting to do to well but it should fun out there," said
Justin Crandall, a sophomore forward for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs shared the ice with the Minnesota Northern, a
sled hockey team made up of men and women with disabilities, as they compete in
a game to benefit sled hockey in Minnesota.
"We wanted everyone to have the opportunity to be a
part of that culture as a player not just a fan," said Christian Koelling,
director of hockey operations for the Bulldogs.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth helped form the Duluth
Area Special and Sled Hockey Association (DASSH) last winter, seeing a need to
expand the hockey culture in the Northland.
"Kids are having to drive three, four, five hours down
to the cities just to skate," said Ezra McPhail, a Minnesota Northern
McPhail, now a student equipment manager at UMD, is just one
example of how sled hockey has helped him overcome a life–altering injury.
"I was playing juniors in St. Cloud when I got hurt. I got
an incomplete spinal cord injury at the T5, T6 level. Once that hit me it was
pretty hard. Yeah I had a rough time but right when I was getting through that
rough patch was when I found these guys and they got me through it," said
Not only does sled hockey give these players a chance to get
back out on the ice again, it also gives them a chance to show people what they
can still do.
McPhail said, "You see it all the time when people
think once you get hurt you just stay in a hole. I mean it's like it's nice to
see you out. It's like what else would I do."
"I mean they have the most positive guys, most positive
outlook on life and they don't see what happen to them as a bad thing, they see
it as a way to play hockey in another way," said Crandall.
The hope is to someday bring a sled hockey team to Duluth
and in the end create a league in Minnesota, so more athletes with disabilities
can share the same ice.
Crandall said, "I think this is a great way for people
to show if you're down a little bit you're not really down. You can battle back
and still have a lot of fun doing whatever you want."