State College Coyotes Bring Adaptive Hockey To Centre County
Penn State alum DJ Wilson has been on the ice for most of his life, but his hockey experience isn’t the common form many know and love. For Wilson, time in the rink consists of a sled and his sled hockey team.
Sled hockey, commonly played in the Paralympic games, is an adaptive sport intended for individuals with physical disabilities. Players sit in a sled and use two sticks to move around on the ice. They can even have a designated pusher to propel the sled for them.
When Wilson was 15 years old, he jumped on the ice to help his brother, who has a disability. Sled hockey bonded the two together and soon made Wilson an avid player. In the following years, Wilson came to Penn State and received a criminology and sociology degree. During his time as a student, sled hockey was still a major fixture within his life.
In 2016, Wilson recognized that a sled hockey program in State College needed to come to life. From there, the State College Coyotes were born.
With so much hockey life around the area, Wilson couldn’t waste the opportunity. USA Hockey and Labatt USA granted Wilson’s new team funds to purchase sled hockey equipment, gear, and ice time at our very own Pegula Ice Arena.
“We knew a couple of people from USA Hockey that helped us fill out the paperwork we needed to and get the program started,” Wilson said. “The process was wonderful.”
Wilson played for a sled hockey team sponsored by the Philadelphia Flyers, but he noticed that a local team created more opportunity for the community surrounding him, including himself.
“The majority of our players have been with us from the beginning. Two new players are actually from Penn State,” team manager Alexis Wilson said. “A lot of time, finding new players is from word of mouth.”
The team currently has 12 members. Following some time off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coyotes are in their fourth official season.
Because sled hockey is an adaptive sport, the team gives players with disabilities a chance to compete. The program is hoping to include more players with physical disabilities because, to play in most of the sled hockey tournaments, there needs to be an ability-balanced team.
“This sport is specifically made for individuals with physical disabilities. We are open to everybody at the moment and, hopefully, we continue doing that,” Wilson said. “At that point, we’re hoping to branch off to different teams that align more with player abilities.”
Sled hockey is “a hard-hitting sport.” The physicality is no different than stand-up hockey, and the competitiveness is just as lively. To practice within this level of physicality, the Coyotes practice on Sundays at Pegula. Soon, the team hopes to expand its partnerships across Centre County, too.
“This summer, we are really going to put our name out there to local businesses and rehabs,” Wilson said.
On May 15, the Coyotes will hold their last season practice before the start of the next campaign. Practices are open to those who show an interest in registering with the team. If you want to see if it’s up your alley, you’re more than welcome.
There is no registration fee to be a part of the team, and the necessary gear — custom-fit for each Coyote– is provided.
“This is such a team sport. It’s an opportunity for people that may not otherwise be able to participate in team sports. Hockey is super unique as a sport in general,” Alexis Wilson said. “It is just a different atmosphere…it is a very welcoming one.”
Although this year’s season is coming to an end, events are still happening. Because the Coyotes vary in ability and age, they are putting on their very own tournament to cap off the year. Starting May 21, the State College Coyotes are hosting a tournament at Altoona Galactic Ice. This experience is to build team morale and introduce a chance to compete.
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Nittany Lions old and new have received new jersey numbers ahead of the 2022 season.