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Grand Rapids Sled Wings capture national championship

Grand Rapids, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Sled Wings clinched its first sled hockey national championship during the 2017 USA Hockey Disabled Festival April 6-9 in San Jose, Calif. The Sled Wings defeated the Colorado Warrior Avalanche, 5-2, in the title game.

The Sled Wings, a team of Michigan athletes with physical disabilities, are sponsored by Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports.

The team compiled a 5-0 record in the American C division during the four-day tournament held at Solar4America Ice Arena, the official practice facility for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. The Sled Wings defeated the Boston Shamrocks, 2-1, the Buffalo Sled Vets 4-3, the Chicago Hornets 4-3 and the Colorado Warrior Avs in a 2-1 shootout victory to clinch a spot in the championship game.

“Each player contributed in every game,” said head coach Jason Bricker.

The Sled Wings were led in the title game by captain Tyler Anderson, of Jenison, who netted four goals, and Brad Dykstra, of Holland, with one. Alternate Captain Susie Kluting, of Coopersville, and goaltender Tom Carlisle, of Sparta, also turned in strong performances.

“It is extremely gratifying to see everything we have worked so hard for all year long come together,” Bricker said. “Our players never gave up.  When we were down in games, we worked harder.  When we made mistakes, we supported each other to make sure the mistakes weren’t repeated. As a team, we have great leaders on the ice and all of the players are able to follow their lead.”

The Sled Wings also include Chris Briggs, of East Lansing; George Grumertz, of Battle Creek; Caleb Janssen, of Mattawan; Rickie Moneyhun Jr., of Whitehall; Chelsea Perry, of Belmont; Nick Phillips, of Rockford; James Sahnow, of Grand Rapids; Josh Thome, of Sparta; Robert Thrailkill Jr., of Belding; Tyler VanHaitsma, of Hudsonville; John VanOoyen, of Kalamazoo; Tim White, of Caledonia; and Martin Wooledge, of Mason. Steve Wheeler is the team’s assistant coach.

The Junior Sled Wings, sponsored by WAS in partnership with the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation, lost 3-1 to the Bennet Blazers in a heartbreaker in the Division A championship. The junior team, which won the national title in 2015, finished the tournament 3-2.

More than 750 players on 63 teams competed in the tournament, the largest competitive hockey event for people with disabilities of its kind.

Sled hockey rules are virtually identical to traditional hockey, except participants sit on bladed sleds. Players use shortened hockey sticks with a blade on one end and a pick (similar to a toe-pick on a figure skate) on the other, which enables them to propel across the ice. As in traditional hockey, checking, penalties and hard slap shots are all abundant in sled hockey.

Sled hockey originated in Sweden in 1940 and was introduced in the United States in 1989. The sport made its Paralympic debut in 1994.

The San Jose Mercury News covered the tournament:  Disabled hockey players bring a surplus of spirit to the ice

Mary Free Bed’s WAS program is one of the largest in the United States. In 2016, about 650 adults and children participated on a team or participated in a class or clinic. This year, WAS has 15 teams and is offering six classes and 10 clinics. WAS also hosts five annual events, including the 5/3 Riverbank Run 25k wheelchair and handcycle races.

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