In the midst of a busy and successful season, three members of the Los Angeles Kings stopped by the Cube to practice with special needs athletes.
The Cube was the team’s stop on Saturday as part of the team’s “2023 We Are All Kings Rink Tour.”
The Kings partnered with the Special Needs Athletes and Peers (SNAP) Flyers Hockey Club to give an afternoon of drills, scrimmage and of course fun on the ice. The tour showcases the wide range of opportunities within the sport of ice hockey in the Los Angeles area, including for disabled, special needs and underserved athletes as well as affordable entry hockey.
Los Angeles center Quinton Byfield, right wing Carl Grundstrom and defender Andreas Englund had a game coming up in just over 24 hours after the event but were able to practice among the SNAP Hockey team members.
“It’s awesome. We were all out there having fun and it’s just all smiles out there,” Englund said. “It’s what hockey should be about, just smiling and having fun. So it’s great to be out there with them. It was all joy and happy fun for the whole hour, so I’m super happy we got to get out there.”
Englund and the Kings engaged in drills for 40 minutes before a scrimmage to end the day. Saturday was a special event for SNAP and Co-Executive Director Heidi Jeffrey.
“It’s everything. If we didn’t do something like this some of them wouldn’t even have a chance to play anywhere,” Jeffrey said. “I know some of them also don’t have much but ice skating and playing hockey is the one thing they have. So, if we can make it extra special with things like the Kings coming, it’s just extra kudos and things they will remember forever.”
While the Flyers experienced an emotional and inspirational day, Englund noted that events like this are also beneficial for those providing it.
“It really brought me joy to be here,” Englund said. “Even if it’s in a busy season, to just be out there and have a little fun, it really does a lot for us, too. I’m super happy that we got invited here and we could go.”
The three Kings then showed they weren’t above even the most tiresome of drills and did several down-and-backs across the rink with the Flyers.
Several Flyers showed their disabilities don’t hold them back at all, like Jeffrey Garcia, who is blind, but was on the ice chasing a bell-like puck and perfectly passing to spots on drills when coaches hit the bell or clacked their sticks on ice.
“I was impressed with a lot of them,” Englund said. “There are a lot of good players out there.”
Saturday marked the Kings’ return to the Cube for the first time in about a year. SNAP hockey also made its return on Saturday, as the program’s season had been pushed back a few months.
SNAP is always looking for more athletes, participants and volunteers to come join the cause. Jeffrey is hoping the Kings stopping by will get more special needs athletes to come out and break more barriers.
“Hopefully it’ll bring more attention to the special needs hockey and people who know the Kings and might have a special needs player can maybe now see and spread the word,” Jeffrey said. “Hopefully get more of them out on the ice.”
SNAP also offers programs to special needs athletes in other sports as well and aims to provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to engage in a variety of sports-based activities.
“Our athletes often shatter the notion of commonly held limitations, by accepting the challenge of more complex competitive sports,” reads SNAP’s mission statement. “Players gain confidence and poise while becoming better equipped to manage their individual disabilities. Athletes who participate regularly, routinely develop the essential physical and social skills needed to improve their everyday lives.”
The Kings return to Crypto.com Arena on Sunday for a home matchup with the Colorado Avalanche. Los Angeles is off to a strong start to the season, in which they are unbeaten on the road and boast a 13-4-3 record.
As for Jeffrey and SNAP, they welcome all local special needs athletes who are looking to play sports, have fun and embrace their community.
“We have an adaptive developmental ice skating program here at the Cube and that’s every week you’re around,” Jeffrey said. “So the team and everyone with special needs can come and ice skate and their families are welcome also. We’re just really grateful to both just the peers that are out there and our volunteers. We’re 100% volunteer-based. So for everybody to show up and be here to support us, that means a lot. If you know a special needs athlete that wants to try ice skating, hockey or football, we also do that.”