Skating across ice, sled style


Renee Loftspring

FAMILY. The IceBreakers team consists of playes of all ages. One of the players, Connor Barge, earned the title of Disabled Athlete of the Year in 2014 at age 16. The team also consists of veterans, parents, and other school-aged children who meet every Monday at Sports Plus to enjoy the sport together.

Hockey is a cherished sport in Canada, Minnesota, and even Ohio. It is not uncommon to see athletes lacing up their skates and treading across the ice with long sticks and a puck, as it is a familiar sport.

What everyone does not know is that there is more than one type of hockey. There is the traditional able-bodied hockey, and there are special hockey programs for athletes who are blind, deaf, and even physically disabled.

Renee Loftspring, founder of Cincinnati IceBreakers Sled Hockey, brought a form of special hockey to Cincinnati. Loftspring was inspired to create a non-profit organization, allowing people with physical disabilities to play hockey.

“My son used to play ice hockey, so we got all kinds of magazines sent to our house. One day, I picked up one about Sled Hockey, sometimes called Sledge Hockey,” said Loftspring.

“I am a physical therapist, so of course, a sport for people with physical disabilities caught my attention. A year and a half later, Cincinnati’s first sled hockey team had their first practice. That was in 2008.”

The organization allows everyone who wants to play to have a chance. There are occasional fees during the season for traveling for tournaments, but Loftspring will work with anyone to help them attend.

The equipment is donated. Loftspring writes grants to businesses such as Walmart and Costco to ask them to provide funds, to hold fundraisers, or to buy equipment or food for events.

“Our motto is ‘Hockey is for everyBODY’. There are different teams across the nation who are all passionate about providing a fun experience for everyone, no matter their physical abilities. Sled Hockey is actually a sport in The Paralympics,” said Loftspring.

Players sit in buckets, called sleds, which are attached to rods that their feet lay on the end of, and there are skate blades underneath the buckets.

Their sticks are modified to be shorter, with an ice pick on one end and a stick-blade on the other. The shorter, two-ended sticks allow for players to propel themselves then quickly flip their stick to handle the puck.

One of their recent events was skating with the Cyclones. The Cincinnati Cyclones hockey team attended a sled hockey practice and got into sleds to skate with the players. The Cyclones are a professional hockey team.

“Their team manager came up to me and said that his players go to a lot of events, and he sometimes gets the signal from them that they want to leave as soon as possible,” said Loftspring.

But he told me that he could barely get them off of the ice; they were having such a blast.”