David Sites loves hockey but he has spina bifida, a birth defect affecting the spinal cord and the bones of the spine. So playing the traditional way is not an option for him.
However, the 14-year-old played in a sled hockey league in New Hampshire while he and his family were living in Old Orchard Beach. Now that he and his family have returned to eastern Maine, he would love to have a chance to play in the Bangor area.
His father, Joe, is from Bangor and his mother, Karen, is a Brewer native.
The first step in making that a reality will come Saturday in Brewer. The Maine Junior Black Bears youth hockey program is sponsoring a free sled hockey clinic.
The event, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Penobscot Ice Arena, is open to able-bodied people as well as those with disabilities. Equipment will be provided.
“Hopefully, this will help make hockey available for everybody,” said Randy Rand, general manager of the Maine Junior Black Bears. “Trying to get this off the ground is well-worth our time and effort.”
Some prominent members of the hockey community are expected to be on hand.
Rand said Karen Sites introduced sled hockey to the Junior Black Bears and brought a lot of excitement to it. So, too, did the United States sled hockey team, which captured an unprecedented third consecutive gold medal at the Paralympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“That showed everyone how well the U.S. is represented in sled hockey,” Rand said.
Rand said a sled hockey team from Bangor demonstrated the sport for Junior Black Bear players.
“We had them help out at one of our standard youth hockey practices and our kids had a chance to play sled hockey and had a ball,” he said.
Sled hockey follows most of the regular hockey rules but the equipment is different.
Players sit on specially designed sleds that sit on top of two hockey skate blades. Each player has two sticks that have metal picks on the butt end so players can propel themselves.
Goalies wear similar equipment to regular hockey goalies but there are modifications to the glove and metal picks are sewn into the backside so the goalie can move around.
Karen Sites said hockey is important to her family.
“Our two girls (Emma and Anna) played this winter and David said, ‘What about me?” Sites said. “He doesn’t have the balance to skate on traditional skates but he does real well in the sled.
“He has naturally taken to it. He has tremendous upper body strength,” she said. “He just wants to be part of a team.”
Organizers have borrowed 24 sleds from the Sled Hockey Foundation/USA Hockey and if there is enough interest, the foundation will allow them to keep five sleds to help them form a league.
Rand said USA Hockey is also instrumental in supporting the program and several local people and businesses have offered their financial support as well.
Sites stressed that the clinic also is open to able-bodied people who want to try it and said it is a lot of fun.
“Everybody is invited,” Sites said. “Even if we can’t form an official league right away, maybe we can schedule a couple of practices a month so people can learn about the game. And, maybe next year we can start a league.”
Rand said clinic organizers will do whatever they can to make it possible for those with more challenging disabilities to participate.
“We can have someone skate behind a player on a sled and help them handle it,” said Rand.
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