When you mention heroes within the game of hockey, names like Gretzky, Orr, Howe and Messier come straight to mind. Playing with a group of veterans who can be considered heroes in their own right after making sacrifices to the nation, some may wonder how I can turn around and look at a group of kids as my heroes. But this group of kids, the Brick Stars, are indeed my heroes on ice.
For the past four years, I have taken some of my fellow teammates from the USA Warriors Ice Hockey team up to Avon, NJ to play the Stars as part of their annual Challenger Winter Classic. For me, it is something I hold near and dear to my heart. For those players who have taken the trip up to my former home state, as soon as the season begins for the Warriors, I begin getting the questions of “When are we going to Brick again?” This is one of those games our players look forward to all season long.
When I first heard about the Stars, founded by a former coach of mine, I felt there was a natural link between what the Warriors are and Special Hockey as a whole. The past four years have proven me right. While the Warriors disabilities have come from service to the country and many of the players on the Stars were born with their disabilities, this “Winter Classic” is a true testament that Hockey is indeed for everyone.
I have never seen so much respect, sportsmanship, and camaraderie on any team as I do on the Brick Stars. When we hit the ice with them, there is no doubt those kids are out there to win. They are chirping, hacking and have a celly for every goal! Having played them for a few years now, there are some on-ice rivalries that the Stars look forward to seeing when we come back every year (I think I am on the butt-end of most of them), however with all of this the players on the Brick Stars understand they have a mixed skill level and ensure the puck gets to players that may not skate as fast or don’t have the same hockey sense as the more experienced players. Off the ice, you see inter-team congratulations and pick-me-ups for good plays. These kids skate as hard as they can, and give it their all to kick out butts every year (and they do)!
And there are smiles, from ear to ear on not only the Stars but the Warriors as well. In the four years I have been taking part in this, I don’t think I have ever seen anybody leave the ice without a smile. When I looked out beyond the rink, I was able to see the entire town of Avon-by-the-Sea, NJ out supporting the event, with the same smile on their faces. NHL Alumni, such as Grant Marshall all wearing that same smile. Sure, we were cold and those kids have been giving it their all for an over an hour straight, but at that point no one cares.
Hockey is special like that. Hockey is for everyone.
“You were born to be a hockey player…You were meant to be here…This moment is yours.” -Herb Brooks
I encourage you all to support or volunteer at with your local Special Hockey team.
You can learn more about the Brick Stars Challenger Hockey Program at: http://brickstarshockey.webs.com/ .
You can learn more about the USA Warriors Hockey Program at: http://www.usawarriorshockey.org .