Anaheim Ducks providing special hockey to special players
When the Anaheim Ducks Top Flight Special Hockey team took the ice on Dec. 16, it took its first huge step as a program by facing off against members of the varsity and junior varsity Orange Lutheran Lancers hockey team.
For the first time in program history, the Top Flight team played in an actual game against an opponent after starting the program as a street hockey league at THE RINKS-Huntington Beach Inline back in 2013. After receiving suggestions from families in the community, the idea for the Ducks to host a program for special needs players started with a free, three-week Learn to Play program to gauge interest.
“Right from the get go, we had a large amount of interest after the hosting our free event,” said THE RINKS director of marketing Jesse Chatfield. “Almost every Friday since, we have worked on the fundamentals of hockey and team concepts with these kids and their development has been amazing.”
The Street Hockey League still is active today and expects to see over 50 participants in what will be the 17th edition of the eight-week program. Instructors and volunteers work weekly with all players regardless of their age or ability during a 30-minute clinic. Following each clinic, players are then split into higher-functioning and lower-functioning groups so that they can display their newly-learned skills in a game format.
The skills on display have even caught the attention of a few Ducks players who have made guest appearances, such as Brandon Montour, John Gibson, Rickard Rakell, Josh Manson and Jaycob Megna.
“This is an awesome [program] for the kids, and you can tell they’re all fans and the follow the team,” said Megna, now with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls. “It was an amazing experience.”
The experience THE RINKS creates for these players is so awesome, that the need to expand the program to the ice became necessary.
“As time went on, many players got the hang of street hockey and were looking to challenge themselves more,” noted Chatfield. “They would look out at favorite hockey players and wanted to be just like them.”
After three free trial events, over 60 special needs players came out to try the sport of ice hockey and eight of them committed to forming the basis of the inaugural Top Flight Hockey team. The group practiced every Saturday at THE RINKS-Lakewood ICE, prepping to take on opponents.
“I had a blast,” said Top Flight coach Tanner Privia. “When we brought the kids out for the first time on the ice, I remember looking back during a skating drill to see everyone fallen on the ice. I was caught off guard when I did not see the crying and whining, and each one had a huge smile on their face. They enjoyed every moment being out there, and to see how far they have come now is incredible.”
After months of practicing, not only did their skills grow, but the amount of teammates grew as well. Last season, the team had 10 players that took on the Lancers in a friendly game to end their season.
“We are so thankful for the Orange Lutheran hockey program taking the time to give back to their community and join us,” said Privia. “It was great not only to see our players experience the thrill of scoring a goal or stopping an opposing player, but for them to see the skill and dedication that the Orange Lutheran players have for the game. Our players look up to these young men as role models and are grateful for the experience.”
The upcoming Street Hockey season started on Jan. 19, while the Top Flight ICE hockey league began on Jan. 13.
For more information, or to register for one of these programs, visit AnaheimDucks.com/TopFlight.
— THE RINKS Staff
(Jan. 30, 2018)