By Michael Svac, USA Hockey Central District Disabled Hockey Representative
How do you keep 170 special needs hockey players active during the COVID-19 pandemic? You bring them all together from the safety of their home and “just make it happen.” And one of the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey Jr. Coaches did just that.
Using what has now become the new normal for meetings and family gatherings, Michael Seisser incorporated his love for hockey and his passion for helping others by developing a weekly Zoom program that connects the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey (CBSH) players for an intense workout and an opportunity to socialize.
The worst part of this pandemic has been the isolation and not being able to socialize. Our players with a special needs’ disability have to be extremely cautious during this time so they are not exposed to any respiratory viruses. As the team prepares to hit the ice soon, keeping them connected has been a challenge. But, CBSH Jr. Coach Seisser, a 14U hockey player for the West Dundee Leafs, embraced the challenge and made things happen this summer.
Michael has been very busy as an 8th grader at Bernotas Middle School, but with 10 years of skating and playing hockey experience (and competing with his twin sister and two older siblings) he knows how to balance his priorities and always makes time to get involved in a variety of volunteer activities.
Michael, an active volunteer with the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey program, was first introduced to disabled hockey when Chicago hosted the Disabled Hockey Festival in March of 2018. Over 2000 players and coaches attended the 8-day event and Michael was there with his teammates making a positive impact on the Festival’s success. From there he took the initiative in 2019 to work with the Leafs’ Board of Directors to host a fundraising event for the Special Needs Hockey team which was a huge success.
“This fundraising event was all Michael’s idea,” said Melanie Freeman, CBSH Hockey Director, “and he prepared and delivered a presentation to the board and what he accomplished was better than a hat trick!”
The Special Hockey Zoom events have been going on for several weeks and have included special guests like USA Hockey President, Jim Smith and J.J. O’Connor, USA Hockey Disabled Section Chairman.
“I was extremely impressed as to the number of participants and the level of engagement,” said Jim Smith. “Players are learning about physical conditioning and how to stay active and are challenged each week during special events.”
Michael noted that the weekly attendance has been extremely strong and players are actively engaged, but his favorite part of the program is at the end when players just unwind and open up during a ten minute social time where they share stories, ask questions and just say hi to their fellow teammates.
This weekly program is unique, and another great idea developed by the CBSH leadership team. According to J.J. O’Connor, “This is best practice for all special hockey programs and will be leveraged as we share ideas on how to grow the game and keep our players both active and safe.”
Please click here to watch a video recording of CBSH’s last Special Needs Hockey Zoom event
We are incredibly proud of Michael! He just keeps on going and finds time in his busy schedule to make things happen.
NOTE: The Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey program is going into their 21st season and currently has over 170 players playing out of five rinks in the Chicagoland area. For more information about the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey program, contact CBSH Director, Melanie Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to visit their website.