Boston sled hockey players finding family and freedom on the ice

WELLESLEY, Mass. — For people with physical disabilities simple tasks can be major challenges. They plan ahead for everything. Even sports designed for athletes with disabilities can create obstacles.

“We have enough to adapt to in life,” said sled hockey player Brian Bardel. “We tend not to think about it and just overcome."

But, there’s a new arena where sled hockey players can shed all that worry and just play. It’s the only one of its kind in New England.

Boston 25 News Anchor Kerry Kavanaugh visited the fully adaptive ice rink in Wellesley and met the players of the Boston Ice Storm, a Massachusetts sled hockey team.

The players say once they hit the ice, it’s almost like they shed their disabilities.

“I’m not Amy the Amputee. I’m Amy the hockey player,” Amy Pietrafitta told Kavanaugh. Pietrafitta suffered burns on over 25% of her body in an industrial accident in Florida. Through her rehabilitation, she found sled hockey.

Julia Hannke suffered a stroke three years ago that left her with paralysis. That’s what led her to the ice.

“It’s all-inclusive,” Hannke said. “If you want to play you’re welcome to play.”

Lucas Dias was shot multiple times in his back and neck. The native of Brazil also found sled hockey during rehabilitation. On the ice in his sled, Dias feels free. “Totally free,” he said. “Like the world is mine and I can do whatever I want.”

“It’s very challenging sometimes to, you know, find stuff that you love to do,” said Will Fahey, a sled hockey player who has cerebral palsy.

The players all have very different stories, but on the ice, in their sleds, they share a common bond.

“I love gliding on the ice,” said Pietrafitta. “It’s amazing, just the speed that you can get. It’s so freeing just to be on the ice and be able to propel yourself.”

Despite the freedom on the ice, most hockey rinks aren’t outfitted for adaptive sports.

"You know when we play hockey we have to adapt to what’s thrown at us there too,” said Bardel. “Normally when we play, at another rink, we usually have to sit on the ice in the neutral zones.”

That’s what makes the Wellesley Sports Center unique. The players say it’s one of the only adaptive ice rinks in the country and the only one in New England.

“To have someone come out and build a rink for us and make it accessible, it means the world to us.”

From wheelchair accessible locker rooms to plexiglass-enclosed benches so players on sleds can still see the action, the accessibility enables players to focus on what’s important: the game and their team.

“This isn’t even a team. This is a family for me,” said Dias. “One of the things I’m most grateful for is meeting all these people.”

Among them, during a recent scrimmage, were players from Wellesley Youth Hockey.

They invited the Boston Ice Storm to share their ice time and play hockey their way.

They were no match for the Ice Storm.

But scrimmage wasn’t about not about keeping up. It was a lesson in understanding and coming together. As teammates who are so much more.

“…makes me feel loved and cared for and makes me feel happy,” said Dias.

“It’s a lifetime thing,” said Pietrafitta. “I found my family. I found a place and that feels really, really good.”

The scrimmage with Wellesley Youth Hockey was the first and only time the Ice Storm played at the new, adaptive rink. They hope that more and more facilities will realize the difference accessibility makes to the players and follow suit.

The Ice Storm is always looking for new players. For more information about the team click here.

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