St. Louis Blues Sled Hockey Team shares message of courage, strength
When high school boys from across the metro-east signed up to play hockey without using their legs, they knew it would be difficult.
Using sleds instead of skates is a challenge. But no amount of practice could have prepared the boys for a game that left them aching, exhausted and in awe of the players who taught them more about sportsmanship than hockey.
“What we really want to show off is how awesome the human spirit is when it is challenged,” said Jason Malady, member of St. Louis Blues Sled Hockey Team.
Ten years ago, Malady decided to have his leg amputated to decrease his pain. He was born with a tumor in his spinal cord. A wheelchair gave him mobility until he decided to make some changes. He had surgery, learned to walk and joined the St. Louis Blues Sled Hockey Team.
Sponsored by the Disabled Athletes Sports Association, the sled hockey team was founded in 2006 for men and women with disabilities. Alumni from the NHL help to pay for their time on the ice.
What we really want to show off is how awesome the human spirit is when it is challenged.
Jason Malady, member of St. Louis Blues Sled Hockey Team
The team of 12 plays about five games a year across the country. Three members, Steve Cash, Billy Hanning and Josh Pauls, also play for the national sled hockey team. Pauls and Cash have earned gold medals in the Paralympic Games.
The game requires players to use two short sticks instead of one. Less than half the size of a regulation hockey stick, the players also use the sticks to steer their sleds. Each sled has a bucket seat with two blades underneath. There’s also a leg rest on each sled.
Kat Steele — the only woman on the team — is a member of the national team for women.
Steele along with her teammates on Friday night faced off against three metro-east high school teams at the McKendree Rec Plex in O’Fallon.
High school hockey players from Belleville East, Belleville West, O’Fallon and Triad strapped into sleds to raise money for DASA. Each school played one quarter against the Blues.
As the game progressed, lessons were learned on and off the ice.
Blues players encouraged high school players to “keep skating.” While the high school players grew tired, the Blues breezed the game. Some members on their team were born with physical challenges while others have learned to cope with injuries.
Their experiences unite them on the ice.
Parker Johnson, a senior at O’Fallon, said Friday was “an awesome opportunity to get the game of sled hockey out there to our community.”
“It’s not something that is really talked about,” said Johnson, who had only seen footage of sled hockey on YouTube before taking to the ice Friday night.
A curious crowd watched Friday nights as the Blues sled hockey players prepared for the game.
“All I can say is thank you,” said Brian Stahlheber,junior varsity coach for the Belleville Township High School Ice Hockey Club. “Hopefully next year, we will see more people and draw a bigger crowd.”
The game raised more than $1,000 for DASA.