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Jr. Sharks, Solar4America Ice ready to host USA Hockey Disabled Festival

 

disabled_logoThrough the years, the San Jose Jr. Sharks have played host to a number of USA Hockey national championship tournaments, but none have been as impactful as the event they’re set to host next month.

For the first time, the USA Hockey Disabled Festival will be held at the Jr. Sharks’ San Jose and Fremont rinks. A total of 64 teams from across the country are scheduled to participate in the April 6-9 event, bringing approximately 780 hockey players to the Bay Area. There will be youth and adult divisions for each discipline.

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“We’re very excited and honored to be involved in something like this,” said Jon Gustafson, the vice president of Sharks Sports and Entertainment. “It’s a major event. We’ve held a number of different national events, and this is one that we’re really excited to be a part of this year.”

The USA Disabled Hockey Festival is the largest disabled hockey event of its kind, bringing together all the disabled hockey disciplines in one location – deaf/hard of hearing hockey, sled hockey, special hockey, standing/amputee hockey and warrior hockey. In addition, for the third year, blind/visually impaired hockey will also be a part of the event.

The mission of the festival is to provide a fun and exciting weekend of hockey in a grand event, as well as to promote and grow disabled hockey throughout the country.

April’s event in San Jose and Fremont marks the 13th year that the festival has been held.

The Jr. Sharks and Solar4America Ice at San Jose (formerly Sharks Ice at San Jose) had to submit their application to host the event more than two years ago, and have been eagerly anticipating the festival since being accepted as the host.

Pacific District disabled section representative Kellie Hays was instrumental in bringing the festival to San Jose and Fremont, Gustafson said.

“Kellie is a magnificent champion of this cause and has done amazing work within the Pacific District to bring programs like this to light,” said Gustafson. “She has helped grow programs like this and be an advocate for them. Her efforts are the main reason why we’ve had the opportunity to host this event.”

Aside from Hays, Gustafson said the Jr. Sharks have had plenty of their coaches, administrators and volunteers get involved to help the cause. They’re as excited about hosting the festival as he is, Gustafson said.

The Jr. Sharks hope that any funds raised by the event will help them start a hockey program for disabled players, and that the festival will encourage community members to support the cause financially by showcasing the benefits of disabled hockey. Those interested in donating or partnering with the Jr. Sharks on the effort can contact Gustafson at jgustafson@sharksice.com.

“One of the goals of hosting this event is to jump-start an adaptive hockey program here in the Bay Area,” Gustafson said. “Both of our rinks have ice time available for adaptive hockey, but we really want to formalize it and try to grow the program. We’re working hard to get a lot of people involved to support the cause and start a legacy program.”

Gustafson said he and his staff are thrilled to be a part of an event that allows athletes of differing abilities to play hockey, and he’s excited about the possibility of opening doors for kids locally to get involved in the sport where there may not have been opportunities before.

“This really shows how broad the scope of hockey is and can be,” Gustafson said. “I think that’s why we’re so passionate about being part of it. It really exemplifies our mission that hockey should be for everyone.”

— Greg Ball