When asked if the experience of working one-on-one with athletes from SNAP (Special Needs Athletes and Peers) on Sunday challenged the notion that people with special needs don’t have the ability to play a sport like hockey, Los Angeles Kings’ defenseman Sean Durzi said, “That defeats the notion, quite honestly.”
“Everyone who came out, from the wheelchair out there, scoring goals and smiling, having fun with face-offs, all that kind of stuff. It’s great,” said Durzi. “And it defeats the notion. I mean, even just to skate around, have fun, be with each other, the smile on each other’s faces. It’s inspiring. So I think it’s a big part of having fun and being in the community and that’s special.”
In coordination with the city of Santa Clarita, six players from the L.A. Kings worked with players from SNAP’s hockey club at The Cube Ice and Entertainment Center Sunday on things like puck handling, stick control, edging, shot blocking, shooting, face-offs and a slew of other exercises, including a full scrimmage toward the end of the practice.
Quinton Byfield, Rasmus Kupari, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Gabriel Vilardi, and Durzi could be seen actively working with each student to refine their chops on the ice — an act that parents really appreciated.
“This has been the best experience for my son. We have been part of this from day one… SNAP was born 10 years ago or so and we had hockey right off the bat, along with flag football, cross country running, but this has really been our main part of the sport,” said Russ Stacey, parent of Jonah Stacey – a player for SNAP. “We’ve had some incredible kids, as you saw with all kinds of handicaps and you know, they accommodate.”
Anderson-Dolan, a forward for the Kings, said events like this can have a positive impact on those who participate.
“It shows how good the sport can be when it’s done the right way, like this,” said Anderson-Dolan. “To bring us out here and you know, we know that we have an impact on people and I think it’s great to be involved and spend some time with them.”
Heidi Jeffrey, head coach of SNAP’s hockey club, said having been a former hockey player herself and a parent of an athlete in SNAP, the experience was particularly special.
“My son started on SNAP, he’s now a volunteer and helps out with the team and he plays in-house here. So it got him started with the program, it got him playing hockey. It changed our life actually,” said Jeffrey. “Our slogan is ‘shattering the limitations,’ so, something about the ice. I don’t know if it triggers all their senses, but the ice definitely plays a part. I’ve seen so many athletes say, ‘Oh, they’ll never do it. They’ll never get out there and skate’ and then something like I said, I think all their senses are engaged and they use it.”