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Created in 2000 for players with develop­mental disa­bilities, the Amer­ican Special Hockey Assoc­iation (ASHA) gives people of all ages and abilities a chance to learn and grow by playing hockey. There are currently over 50 ASHA programs in more than 30 cities through­out the United States. Follow special hockey on Twitter and Facebook.

Alex Ovechkin big hit with kids during skate

Capitals forward receives 2016 American Special Hockey Association Inspiration Award

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

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ARLINGTON, Va. -- Ann Schaab walked slowly around the Washington Capitals locker room going from stall to stall searching for the one that belonged to Alex Ovechkin.

When she finally came to it, she stopped and called out to her mother, Melissa, "Ovi!"

Schaab, 12, met Ovechkin in 2014 when Ovechkin and the Capitals hosted a skating session for children from the American Special Hockey Association at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Schaab, who has Down syndrome, asked Ovechkin to go on a sushi date with her following a Capitals preseason game, and a friendship was born.

Ovechkin hosted his third annual skating event with ASHA on Friday, and Schaab, who plays for the Washington Ice Dogs, was back among the more than 60 players who participated.

"Me and Ovi are special friends," Ann Schaab said. "He helps me a lot. He helps my team and he helps my friends play hockey."

Ovechkin, 31, appeared to enjoy the event as much as the players. The Capitals captain offered encouragement and plenty of fist bumps to the players while helping run drills.

"It's fun," Ovechkin said. "I can see they're smiling. They ask me questions. It's always fun. It's nice to see them smile."

Founded in 2005 for players with developmental disabilities, ASHA has grown into a nationwide program with more than 2,000 players in 60 programs in 54 cities. The programs represented Friday included the Ice Dogs, Baltimore Saints, Montgomery Cheetahs and Nova Cool Cats.

"The big thing with our players is we're therapeutic-based, not competitive," ASHA president Mike Hickey said. "We're trying to instill confidence in them and teach them responsibility and socialization, and this is a real shot in the arm as far as confidence. They go to school tomorrow and tell all their friends that they skated with Alex Ovechkin. So it's kind of a big deal."

Hickey said Ovechkin's skating event is invaluable to the players and to ASHA because of the exposure it creates for the program.

"This draws a lot of awareness to what we're trying to do, and it's incredible for how people view us, that they know who we are," Hickey said.

For his contributions to ASHA, which include donating a car following the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Columbus, Ovechkin received the 2016 ASHA Inspiration Award from Hickey on Friday to chants of "Ovi! Ovi!" from the players. Former New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Carkner was the recipient in 2015.

"For these NHL players, a lot of this is obligations," Hickey said. "For Ovi, this isn't an obligation. He loves doing it the last three years. He has a smile on his face. He loves the kids, and they love him."

Ovechkin called it "special" to receive the award.

"I got lucky," he said. "I'm a professional hockey player. I just try to help the kids, and the organization does a great job to help me and help everybody around."

The Inspiration Award wasn't the only thing Ovechkin took home with him Friday. Schaab also presented him with a special gift in the Capitals locker room before they headed out to the ice.

By the time Ovechkin came out to greet her, Schaab was sitting in Nicklas Backstrom's locker stall after having tried on Backstrom's helmet. Although Ovechkin is her "special friend," Schaab wears No. 19 because of Backstrom.

Ovechkin doesn't seem to mind. He welcomed Schaab with a big hug before the two sat down to talk about life and hockey. That's when Schaab showed him the children's book, "Drop the Puck, Let's Play Hockey."

After reading about the friendship between Ovechkin and Schaab, and meeting Ann at an Ice Dogs fundraiser in April, author Jayne J. Jones Beehler decided to incorporate them into the third installment of her "Drop the Puck" series. In the latest book, one of the returning characters, Blaine, the manager of the Minnesota Bears youth team who also has Down syndrome, joins an ASHA team.

When Blaine initially has trouble learning to skate, a new character named Ann lends a hand.

After meeting Schaab, Jones thought, "There's no better ASHA player to highlight this from the heart than Ann."

"So Ann friends him and skates over to Blaine, who is struggling from his first couple of marches on the ice," Jones said. "She friends him, helps him out, and we continue on the Ovi love affair a little bit because in the book Blaine asks Ann go for mini-donuts. Those are a Minnesota hot commodity. Then, Ann replies, 'I don't like mini-donuts. I prefer sushi.'"

Schaab opened the book to page 35 to show Ovechkin the illustration of her character helping Blaine. She then signed the page for Ovechkin.

"I will put it with all of my trophies," Ovechkin promised Schaab.

All of the proceeds from sales of the book through Nov. 7 will go to ASHA. Ovechkin, who has talked about starting a family with wife, Nastya, liked the idea of maybe someday reading the book to his children so they can learn about his friendship with Schaab.

"It's always nice when the kids love you and I love them," he said. "We have fun, we talked before the [skate], and it's great."

Tracy Tucker Named Executive Vice President of Development

The American Special Hockey Association is pleased to announce the appointment of Tracy Tucker to the positon of Executive Vice President of Development.

Tracy brings over 20 years’ experience in Special Hockey and will assist new teams in starting up their programs. His wealth of knowledge in the area of program development will be a huge asset to our new programs coming on board. 

 

 

 

Gateway Locomotives experience being Blues for a day

 

Program for players with disabilities will be rebranded as the Blues Special Hockey Club

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

 

St. Louis- A foghorn blares, the organist plays “When the Blues Go Marchin’ In” from the upper bowl and the public address announcer Tom Calhoun’s voice carries over the loud speaker as fans cheer from the stands and players celebrate on the ice.

That was the scene at Scottrade Center on Sunday afternoon, except the St. Louis Blues weren’t on the ice for any of it.

Instead, it was the Gateway Locomotives – a group of developmentally-challenged hockey players – who got to experience what it felt like to be a Blue for a day.

The Locomotives arrived at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall thinking they were there for their weekly practice, but instead were introduced to Blues legend Bob Plager, who told them they would be taking a bus to Scottrade Center to experience what being a Blue was like.

When their bus arrived downtown, the team was greeted by former Blue Kelly Chase, who helped get ice time for the Locomotives at Brentwood Ice Rink when the program was created in 1994, Chase led the players to the locker room, where Blues forward Robby Fabbri was waiting to show them around and give them their new jerseys, which featured a new team name and a new logo: the Blues Special Hockey Club.

But the best was still to come.

After suiting up, the team took the ice for a game at Scottrade Center in front of more than a thousand fans who cheered them on from the stands.

One of the (kids) turned around and said she was living the dream, “said Jim Hermann, who serves as the administrator for the Gateway Locomotives and has been with the organization since its inception in 1994. “That’s what this is. For the Blues to treat these kids the way they were treated today, that’s something they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

“When we started talking about doing this, my expectations were the Blues would just allow us to use their name. We would even buy our own jerseys and create our own logo,” Hermann added. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think the Blues would do what they did today. It’s outstanding. It goes to show you what class this whole organization has from top to bottom.”

While the Locomotives got to experience what it felt like to be a Blue for a day, they’re actually now the Blues for good. With the team being renamed and rebranded, the club will now represent the St. Louis Blues in tournaments for disabled athletes.

The locomotives actually began 23 years ago when Tony Sansone Jr. learned of a disabled hockey team that was competing in Toronto. Sansone and his wife brought that idea to St. Louis, establishing the Gateway Locomotives as the first hockey team in the United States for the developmentally-challenged. The organization currently serves 45 players, including some from the original rooster. Many have been diagnosed with autism or down syndrome. Now, 60 clubs similar to the Gateway Locomotives exist across the country.

“I have seven healthy children, and not withstanding that, I have all healthy nieces and nephews, just blessings beyond what anyone would expect to experience, “ said Sansone. “We wanted to give something back more than just from a monetary standpoint, but with our time and energy. All my kids are involved, and this is a really special (organization) to my family.”

“The Blues, under the leadership of Tom Stillman and his ownership group, showed everyone what they’re all about,” Sansone said of Sunday’s event. “they’re local people that understand how important it is to be part of the landscape. They’ve certainly showed that with everything they’ve done, but more in particular with what they have done today. Words can’t describe the value they bring. Just look at what they’ve done from an inspirational standpoint for all of our athletes and their families. 

Online Story Link

 

 

The Cleveland Rockin' Wildcats are featured in Parenting Special Needs Magazine

The Cleveland Rockin' Wildcats are featured in the January/February issue of Parenting Special Needs Magazine.

Click on the following link to get the story on the Wildcats: