HOUGHTON — While the Michigan Tech Huskies hockey team played their last home game in early March, sled hockey came into fill the hockey void during the last weekend in March at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
Organizers had hoped for around 20 participants for this first-time clinic and were blow away by the roughly 80 people who came out to acclimate themselves to the sport. Players did not need to have a disability to get out on the ice.
Houghton High School senior Maria Valet was the moving force behind the afternoon demonstration.
“I fell in love with it when I was at an adaptive-ski camp in Sun Valley Idaho last year,” said Valet, who is a member of the Gremlins’ cross country and track and field teams. “I liked the team aspect of it. As well, we got a chance to meet members of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, and they were very encouraging.”
When home is the birthplace of professional hockey, the sport seemed like a perfect match. Things only got better when Valet bounced the idea off Michigan Tech’s Associate Athletic Director Joel Isaacson. For more than a decade, Isaacson has been a volunteer with the U.S. National Paralympic Sled Hockey Team.
“When Maria and her dad, John, reached out to me, I was all for it,” he said. “I secured a date, Tech donated the ice time, and I was able to get several sleds from my connections. However, had I known that we would have had this kind on turnout, I would have gotten more.”
Most of the sleds came from Sled Hockey U.P. in Marquette – a club team that competes among themselves. Alan Beauchamp is the club’s general manager.
“I’m astounded by the interest today,” he said. “This is really amazing.”
Beauchamp added that there is a lot going on physically in sled hockey, and it can be tricky at first.
“It’s a real upper-body workout,” he explained. “You are sitting in a sled with a light-weight aluminum frame, and you use two small hockey sticks with picks on the bottom to propel yourself, and you use those same sticks to move the puck, pass and shoot. The key is practice, practice, practice. It’s not something you can just jump into and expect to be good at the first time.”
Aman Poovalappil concurred. The 35-year-old doctoral student at Tech said balance was his biggest struggle as he was making his debut on the ice.
As the clinic wound down, a handful of the Huskies’ hockey players made their way onto the ice with stick and puck in hand to shoot around with the sled players. The team had just returned from the NCAA tournament game in Colorado and were in the building cleaning out their lockers when the saw the action.
“It was great to see how they came out for the community,” said Erin Reetz, one of the event’s volunteers.
As for the road ahead, Valet and her dedicated crew hope to hold another clinic later this year and get a sense of whether this could become a club sport at Tech in the near future.