Hockey Greats Shine Spotlight on Disabled Counterparts: A True “Love of the Game” Display

The Red Wings Alumni Association hit the ice at the Onyx Rochester Ice Arena on August 21 to raise awareness and funding for their fellow hockey players with special needs.  As a pre-race fundraiser for the new Great Michigan Race that benefits Michigan’s special athletes, the star-studded event radiated the lime light on the physically and intellectually disabled players, who beat all odds to lace up their skates and take to the ice.  

Detroit’s own Karen Newman sang the National anthem, and famed Production Line great Ted Lindsay took center ice for the ceremonial puck drop.  Players for the “Friends of Special Olympics” team battled the Red Wings Alumni in two 25-minute periods of action.  Hockey legend Mickey Redmond was in good company as Joe Kocur, Shawn Burr and John Ogrodnick joined him on the ice to lead the Wings to victory. 

However, the program really kicked off during the game’s 20-minute intermission, when the Michigan Far Flyers and Michigan Sled Dogs showed the Alumni and the fans what they can do on blades.  Former NHLers Shawn Burr, Jon Finstrom, Mike Krushelnyski and Craig Wolanin took on both teams in separate 5-minute games, getting a firsthand experience of the will, ability and adoration for the game of hockey that these players exude.

Part of USA Hockey’s American Special Hockey Association (ASHA) program, the Michigan Far Flyers is a talented team of both male and female hockey players who are developmentally or physically challenged.   Participating locally, nationally and internationally, the Far Flyers hold a 10-game season at the Viking Arena in Hazel Park.  However, through their involvement in the USA Hockey National Disabled Festival and Special Hockey International (SHI) tournaments, the Far Flyers sent one team to this year’s festival in Maryland and two teams to the tournaments in Ontario.  “Our team is part of the FAR Conservatory of Therapeutic and Performing Arts Ice Skating program, which has been encouraging special athletes in ice hockey and figure skating for over 25 years.  We are proud to be a part of events that highlight our team’s abilities, and the opportunity to play with the Red Wings Alumni makes it really special for our athletes,” expressed Head Coach, Ben Niemiec.  Visit

With their beginnings in 2004, the Michigan Sled Dogs have grown into a competitive traveling sled hockey team, who currently hold the London, Ontario 2010 Champions title.  Playing locally at the Great Lakes Sports City Ice Arena in Fraser, the Sled Dogs compete nationally and internationally, with some of their players participating in the Paralympics.  The Sled Dogs team consists of both male and female hockey players; however, the difference is they support players with disabilities including Spina Bifida, Muscular Dystrohpy, Celebral Palsy and spinal cord injuries that prohibit them from playing stand up hockey, which requires a whole different way of suiting up and hitting the ice.  Visit

Sled hockey (or sledge hockey in Canada and Europe) is a sit down version started in the 1960s in Sweden.  A player’s sled consists of an aluminum frame, skag (to keep the front from hitting the ice), bucket seat, straps, and two skate blades.  The same protective gear is worn, but the sticks, which are roughly 3-feet in length, are also unique to sled hockey, as they have metal picks on the ends to help propel players up and down the ice.  “There are such wonderful programs for athletes with disabilities, and I encourage people to get involved by participating as well as supporting the organizations that make it all happen” exclaims Carol Schwanger, Director Disabled Sports for Michigan Amateur Hockey Association (MAHA).

The Great Michigan Race organizers were responsible for  hosting the event and showcasing these amazing players.  The Great Michigan Race will be held Sunday, October 17 in Rochester with Mickey Redmond as the race Emcee.  All race proceeds benefit Special Olympics Michigan, so support our special needs athletes by forming a team of four in the race, volunteering your time and talents, or donating to a GREAT cause!  For more information, visit today…because there’s an athlete in all of us!

Written by Jill Fraeyman

Photographs by Jerry Richart of Distinctive Image Photography

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