West Side News

Sled hockey designed to emphasize players' abilities

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Junior hockey players from all over Ohio and beyond took the ice last weekend in Columbus, but they didn't use skates.

The young athletes were participants in the 11th annual Aladdin Invitational Sled Hockey Tournament Jan. 18-19 at the OhioHealth Ice Haus in the Arena District.

Sled hockey was developed for young athletes with disabilities that prevent them from skating. Players sit in bucket seats attached to sleds with skate blades.

Most standard hockey rules apply to the game. For example, five players and a goalie are allowed on the ice for each team, and penalties are enforced.

The biggest difference is that players do not use a single hockey stick.

Instead, they use the butts of two shortened hockey sticks to propel themselves across the ice and shoot a puck.

Last weekend's tournament, sponsored by the Aladdin Shrine Hospital, featured teams from Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland as well as two teams from Pennsylvania and one from Michigan.

Sled hockey tournaments have two divisions divided by skill level, according to Kelly Fenster, general manager of Ohio Sled Hockey, a nonprofit organization that supports the junior hockey team.

Fenster said elite teams include players with advanced sled hockey skills. Novice and junior teams include beginning players.

The weekend tournament was for latter division.

The 14 members of the Columbus junior team known as the Ohio Blades remained undefeated on the year by winning the Aladdin tournament in a Jan. 19 shootout against the team from Johnstown, Pa.

In the shootout, John Espenes of Columbus and Tim Bailey of Galloway scored before Michael Fenster of New Albany tallied the winning goal, Fenster said.

Michael, 14, is Fenster's son and an eighth-grader at New Albany Middle School. He plays on the Columbus elite and junior teams.

Michael was born without a tailbone, a condition called sacral agenesis, and has never been able to walk, Fenster said.

"I love the way these players use their abilities on the ice," Fenster said. "Part of our saying is it takes the disability out of their ability when they're on the ice."

The Columbus team includes 14 players from central Ohio who range in age from 7 to 23, Fenster said.

In addition to Bailey, Espenes and Fenster, the Columbus team includes: John Paul Beachler of Grove City; Mary Kate Bunstine of Upper Arlington; Corey Chiou and Evan Heller of Hilliard; Morgan Hosbrough of Columbus; Scott Jones of Granville; Matthew Przeracki and Seth Roush of Mount Gilead; Zab Reese of Ashville; and Leah Schulze of Westerville.

The team also includes Mark Damante, a 2013 New Albany High School graduate who befriended Michael Fenster and helps out with the team, Fenster said.

Last year, Damante completed a research paper on Michael's condition and planned a sled hockey fundraiser to fulfill his senior seminar project, a graduation requirement at New Albany High School.

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