JOHNSTOWN, Pa (WTAJ)– Local disabled sled hockey team Johnstown Sitting Bulls hosted their division tournament for the first time since the pandemic.
This two-day tournament featured the ten different teams in the Metropolitan division of the Northeast Sled Hockey League. The 20 games were played at either the 1st Summit Arena in Johnstown or the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg. The Sitting Bulls played four games during the weekend, two on Saturday and two on Sunday.
The Sitting Bulls are a para-sport team, which means that some athletes playing are disabled. Some of the players on the team are either wounded warriors, amputees, or have other conditions such as cerebral palsy or spina bifadu.
Vice President of the organization Jennifer Buchkovich said that it’s rare that the team hosts a tournament at home court. They were excited about having a crowd to cheer them on.
“We’re not just a community; we feel like we’re a family at Sled hockey,” Buchkovich said. “You get to know other people, and just people talking about things they would like to see happen, and they make them happen.”
Before the tournament, the co-ed team stood 2nd in their division with a 6-2 record. President of the organization, Russell White, said that crowds get surprised when watching the teams play. They never knew how much their intensity matches regular standing hockey.
“They didn’t know it was like on the same level as stand-up hockey,” White said. “They’re expecting it to be dull and boring, but it’s exciting. Matter of fact, sometimes it’s much better than watching stand-up play.”
Sled Hockey has similar rules to regular hockey. The main difference is the use of sleds instead of skates and the number of sticks. Buchkovich said that athletes who are not disabled also try out the sport. The sleds put everyone at the same level, no matter the disability.
“The ice levels the playing field for them, and even the able body players because they’re in a sled everybody is the same,” Buchkovich said. “They’re still it’s amazing because we make adaptations for the players for whatever disability.”
The organization is also looking ahead towards their annual fundraiser on Sunday, April 3. This fundraiser has not happened for two years because of the pandemic. It serves to help with the cost for the season which the equipment, ice time, and travel expenses. White said they’re looking to catch up with the fundraising this year.
“There are no other adaptive team sports in this area. So, it really gives our kids an outlet. They become like siblings on the ice. They form special relationships that a lot of times people with special or different abilities don’t get to make those kinds of friendships.”
Sign up for the WTAJ Newsletter for the latest local news, weather, and community events that matter to you.