Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sled hockey experience very fun, very humbling

 Preseason hockey games are usually low-key and reserved, but not in the case of the Oxford High School varsity team, who played a sled hockey game against the Michigan Sled Dogs, a team of disabled adults, last Saturday at Suburban Ice-Macomb.

Sled hockey is just how it sounds – players sit on sleds with blades and play the game of hockey with traditional rules and camaraderie.

The game, which may become an annual traditional between the two teams, had been in the works for a while.

“A few years ago, the Hartford Insurance Company was doing a “Get Familiar with Sled Hockey” day in Troy and that’s where I met (Oxford head coach) Dave Hague,” explained Sled Dogs’ captain and co-manager Marc Henretta. “Being both ‘hockey guys,’ we became friends. After that, Dave thought it would be a good idea to have his boys’ able-bodied team play against us, but we’d play them in sleds. I believe Dave felt it would be a great learning experience for his able-bodied team to see how hard others have to work, to play the game we all love.”

For the OHS players, the afternoon was something many of them said they won’t soon forget.

“Playing with the Sled Dogs was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us,” said junior forward Luke Novack. “Although it was very difficult to do, it was still a ton of fun. It was especially cool to meet all the players on the Sled Dogs and hear their stories. Playing with the Sled Dogs was very inspiring. Even though they were paralyzed, they found a way to play the sport that they loved. It meant a lot for them to come out and show us how to play sled hockey.

“This experience really humbled me.”

Wildcats’ senior goalie Justin Gizinski said he was awestruck by what he went through on the ice.

“What isn't there to say about the experience we had?” said Gizinski. “It was not only physically challenging in the sense that it was the hardest thing I've ever done in an ice rink, but it was also emotionally challenging to see some really cool guys plagued with a very inconvenient misfortune and to see how positive they were was the best part. No matter what, they constantly challenged themselves to do better all while never resenting us for having a little more luck in life.”

“It was definitely a new experience, but it was amazing to see what they could do sitting on two blades a half-inch apart,” added senior forward Jon Buday. “Seeing the paraplegics play made me realize how well people adapt to the situations they are given and made me thankful for everything I have. It’s extremely important to give back to the community like this because it keeps everybody close, opens your eyes and gets you experiencing things many people don't have the chance to do.”

Henretta received positive feedback from both sides, further pushing the topic of making this game a yearly event just prior to the high school season getting started.

“These are always a win-win for both teams,” Henretta said. “The OHS boys get to see how we play and we get to see how able-bodied boys play sled hockey. The Oxford boys did a nice job of playing sled hockey, especially since most of them had never played sled hockey before. Some of the comments I received from the OHS guys were, ‘Wow – the Sled Dogs are really, really good’ or ‘I can’t believe how sore my arms and shoulders are’ or ‘I can’t believe how fast Jesus Villa can skate and it’s even more remarkable how hard he can shoot – and they all shoot with only one arm.’

“We always enjoy playing the OHS team, as well as other able-bodied teams in the area. These types of events help the Michigan Sled Dogs fund raise and as we all know, playing hockey is not cheap, so the generous donations collected by the OHS team go a long way to help the Sled Dogs pay for ice, travel and equipment. We’d definitely look forward to playing OHS again.”

Gizinski summarized the day in a profound manner.

”What I think we all got from all of this is that no matter what, do not take anything for granted because one morning, you may wake up and lose something that makes life a lot easier, just like what may have happened to some of these guys we played against,” said Gizinski. “No matter how bad you think things are for you, there's always someone who's worse off, so just be positive.”

For more information on the Oxford High School varsity hockey team, visit

For more information on the Michigan Sled Dogs, visit