This month USA Hockey hosted the 14th Annual Disabled Hockey Festival in Chicago with the support of the Chicago Blackhawks organization, the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois (AHAI), Illinois Hockey Official Association (IHOA) and the USA Hockey Central District. The Disabled Hockey event lasted eight days over two consecutive weekends and was the single largest indoor USA Hockey event ever organized. With over 1800 players and coaches (plus hundreds of family members and volunteers) from the United States, Canada and even London it exceeded all expectations and was a tremendous success.
“The festival planning began 15 months ago with a core team of myself and 3 individuals – Jim Smith, President of USA Hockey, JJ O’Connor, USA Hockey Disabled Section Chairman and Amy Lapoe, USA Hockey Representative for Special Hockey,” stated Michael Svac, Chairperson for the Disabled Festival and USA Hockey’s Central District Disabled Hockey Representative. “We orchestrated the event and from there ‘Festival Leadership Teams’ were structured and the hundreds of volunteers from throughout the Chicago area were plugged in and made it all happen.”
“I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of individual volunteers that made this year’s Disabled Festival possible” said Svac, “including the involvement of several youth hockey clubs …with the Leafs Hockey Club leading the way. I want to also recognize the Leaf Ice Centre Management team and the Blue Line Grill team. Honestly, there were so many incredible volunteers – way too many to mention.”
“Without the strong support and dedication from representatives of the Chicago Blackhawks organization, AHAI and IHOA, an event of this magnitude would not have been possible,” noted Craig Welker, Executive Vice President of Fairview Facilities Management. “It was amazing to see the local community jump right in to help.”
“Fairview Facilities Management (who manages the Leafs Ice Centre) and the Leafs Ice Centre team was the right choice,” stated Svac. “With an event of this size, it was important to choose the right rink partner.”
Svac also praised the local disabled hockey teams and their families. “The five Illinois disabled hockey teams – the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey Team, the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks Warriors, the Hornets Sled Hockey team and AHIHA (American Hearing Impaired/Hard of Hearing) – worked extremely hard for the past 9 months to raise money and engage a core team of leaders and hundreds of volunteers. These players and individuals were the ones that deserve all the credit as they came together and engaged in the execution of a plan”.
“The Disabled Hockey Festival got its start in 2005 in the Detroit area,” JJ O’Connor said, “and has grown over the years from about 30 teams to the 130 teams that participated the last two weeks. It was a great feeling to bring the Festival back to Chicago after 10 years. A decade ago there were approximately 400 players that participated in the Festival. Look at the Festival now … we had 1800 players and coaches join us this year!”
Having had a week to look back on the Disabled Festival, Svac concluded his thoughts of the 15-month journey with “I would like to thank all of those that took part in this event and made something very special happen for so many hockey athletes with disabilities. Whether they were here for fun or to compete for the championship banner, the expressions on their faces and seeing their smiles is what this is all about because Hockey is For EveryBODY. Without all of our volunteers we could not have done what was done and it’s a great feeling to say that I was part of a great organization and community that went beyond all expectations to represent Chicago in such a positive way”.
The 2019 Disabled Hockey Festival will be hosted at Florida Hospital Center Ice near Tampa Florida March 28 through April 7, 2019. Hope to see you there!
Thank you to all the photographers that donated their time and talent! Click HERE to view photos from both weekends of the 14th Annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival!