While the Anaheim Ducks nestle atop the NHL’s Western Conference on their quest for the Stanley Cup, their sled hockey counterparts the San Diego Ducks will be migrating east to Buffalo, New York for the 2015 USA Disabled Sled Hockey Festival.
The world’s largest hockey gathering of athletes with a disability will play host to 65 teams.
Ducks’ coach Pete Bellin, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, said he has been coaching hockey in San Diego for more than 20 years.
“We only started with a couple players, but it has really grown,” he said. “A lot of people don’t even know that this is available. In San Diego, any ice is good ice.”
Former Southwestern College ABLE Club presidents Joe Chavez and Karina Mendoza were among the first to join the team. Chavez, who is the goalie for the Ducks, also goaltends for the U.S. Paralympic Soccer team.
Chavez heard about the Ducks through the ASRA newsletter and decided to translate his skills to the ice. Chavez said he realized Father Time is chasing him and sled hockey gives him a new opportunity to extend his athletic career.
“I have pretty much 80-year-old knees, chronic arthritis,” he said. “I never worried about the pain because that’s how dedicated I am to representing my country. Now I’ve found something I see myself playing for a really long time because it consists of my upper body, not my lower.”
A highly-dedicated athlete, Chavez flew to Fort Wayne, Indiana to learn from Steve Cash, a two-time Olympic goal medalist as a goalie for the U.S. Sled Hockey Team. Chavez said the experience was amazing.
“I really went into the camp as a blank canvas so I was able to soak in everything he was teaching me,” he said. “There are many differences from playing goalie in soccer.”
Chavez said later this year he will attend the Sled Hockey Jamboree in New Jersey to showcase his skills in front of the coach of United States Paralympic Sled Hockey Team.
Chavez said sled hockey is his new favorite sport.
“This sport keeps me going, keeps me active and my mind set on bigger things,” he said. “Goalie is really intense. I’m probably the only one who is a dancing starfish on the ice. It’s really physical.”
Sarah Bettencourt, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, founded the Ducks.
In 2008 Bettencourt developed a rare neurological disorder that led to her retirement from military in 2012.
Bettencourt said she reached out to the sports community to fundraise $20,000 for the team. The Ducks have adult and youth programs for both travel competition and recreational. Teams are also allowed three able-bodied players in a game.
Live games from the sled hockey festival will be available for live stream through http://www.fasthockey.com. The San Diego Ducks practice Thursday at 5:45 p.m. and Sunday at 4:30 a.m. at the UTC mall ice rink on La Jolla Village Dr. To donate contact http://www.adaptivesportsandrec.org/sledhockey/sarahscampaign.