Submitted by Anonymous on Sat, Jul 17, 2010

by Ted Black
The Gazette, Staff Writer

Apr. 8, 2004

Gardens' Ice House co-owner Clai Carr can still recall the day his youngest son, Tyler Carr, was born 22 years ago -- what should have been a completely joyous occasion was soon overshadowed by concern.

"Right after Tyler was born, the doctor looked at me and told me there might be a problem," Carr said. "When I looked at my newborn son, he looked normal. I didn't think anything was wrong. But the doctor said he could sense something was wrong and he wanted to do some tests. We soon found out that Tyler was born with Down Syndrome."

But neither Carr nor his son has allowed the disease to completely hamper their lives. In fact, last weekend the Gardens' Ice House hosted the Special Hockey International tournament which attracted 28 teams from across the nation and Canada. Tyler Carr plays for the Washington Ice Dogs, a local team comprised of 26 players whose ages range from 6-35.

"Both of my older sons played hockey in high school and college," Carr said. "So even though we knew at an early age that Tyler had Downs Syndrome, we were not about to allow the disease to prevent him from playing hockey. He practices with the team once a week all year, but they only have limited opportunities to play. They might play in eight or nine games in a year, but they enjoy every minute of it."

County residents on the Ice Dogs roster include Paul Maddox of Bowie, Brian Howell, Matt Wrathall and Lawrence Launder of Laurel, Marc McConahy of Beltsville and David Evans of Hyattsville. In addition, Bowie resident Thomas Weikle volunteers his time to mentor the Ice Dogs' players. Weikle plays for the hockey team at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt.

Washington Ice Dogs' assistant coach Chris Sanick is in his second year with the club since team founder and president Mike Hickey brought him on board. But Sanick is fully adept at working with students with disabilities. A special education teacher at James Duckworth School for the severely disabled in Beltsville, Sanick has interacted with autistic children for more than a decade.

"Anybody with a disability can play for us," Sanick said. "At James Duckworth, I have five students that I work with every day. Here, I'm working with 25 or 30 people at practice. We practice every Saturday from October through April and some of the players have really developed. But they play for the fun more so than for the thrill of competition. It's great for them just to be able to skate."

Washington Capitals' goalie Olaf Kolzig was on hand last Friday to drop the puck for the ceremonial face-off of the contest between the Ice Dogs and Canada's Cooksville Crusaders, the host team for next year's tournament. Last year Kolzig and two other National Hockey League players, Byron DaFoe and Scott Mellanby, started Athletes Against Autism. All three are fathers of autistic children.

"It all really began last year when Scott Mellanby heard that my son, Carson, was born with autism," Kolzig said. "He has an autistic child, so he was very helpful in helping me and my wife, Christin, through the process. I have learned quite a bit about the disease, and together we're trying to raise funds to help find a cure. It hasn't been easy for me, but it's been tougher for my wife. There's nothing like a mother-son bond."

Kolzig has enjoyed a superb career with the Capitals and he was a major factor in their ability to reach the 1997-98 Stanley Cup finals against the Detroit Red Wings. But although Kolzig is one of the few goalies fortunate to compete in the Stanley Cup finals, he admitted that experience paled in comparison to the formation of his newest group.

"Playing in the Stanley Cup finals is something that every player dreams about doing," Kolzig said. "But even though you might dedicate 25 or 30 years of your life to playing the sport, it really doesn't come close to starting a family and raising your children. Hockey is a great sport, but it's only part of your life. Your kids are your legacy, and you have to look out for their health and well-being so that they can live productive lives as adults."

Kolzig stayed around to watch most of the game between the Ice Dogs and the Crusaders, a contest that ended in a 5-5 tie, before speaking with other teams in the locker rooms and then signing autographs for fans in the lobby. Kolzig admitted that it wouldn't be long until his 3-year-old son will put on his first pair of skates.

Unlike hockey games in general, players in Special Hockey games are not permitted to check or fight, and rules such as off-sides and icing are not enforced. Some players stood barely three-feet tall and perhaps weighed less than their equipment.

"These kids have so much to learn about life," Carr said. "But they teach us a lot about life simply by playing hockey. They represent all that is good about humanity. They don't fight and they don't push each other to get ahead. Sure, they like seeing the fruits of their labor up on the scoreboard, but they cheer for one another and pat each other on the head after a good play. They get so much enjoyment out of something most of us take for granted."

Date of Publication: 
Sat, Nov 17, 2007