Feb 18, 2012, 10:04 PM EDT
Happy Hockey Day in America! Be sure to check out PHT throughout the day as we bring you features and previews of all the events, including a nine-hour NHL block of programming across NBC and NBC Sports Network.
An NHL franchise’s most popular mandate is to win the Stanley Cup, but its impact on the community extends far beyond on-ice performance. Teams have a tremendous opportunity to change lives and, with the help of Travis Leigh, the Tampa Bay Lightning have done just that.
Inspired by his hometown Lightning as a teenager, Leigh wanted to take up the sport of hockey, but cerebral palsy hindered his attempts at skating. Ultimately he decided to stay involved in the sport in other ways and when he learned about sled hockey — where players use specialized sleds to move around the ice instead of skates — he joined a team in Sacramento, where he was going to University.
After two years with the California-based club, Leigh — a broadcasting major — approached the Lightning about a possible internship in 2006. While there, he pitched the idea of putting a sled hockey team in Tampa Bay.
“[Lightning Director of Fan Development] David Cole came up to talk to me and was very positive about it,” Leigh said. “It surprised me because I was so used to people saying no.”
From there, Tampa Bay became the first NHL franchise to sponsor a sled hockey club.
The program has since grown and other teams have followed in the Lightning’s footsteps. The United States has established itself as a leader in the sport with its success at the 2010 Winter Paralympics Games, taking home the gold medal without allowing a goal.
USA Hockey has since established the Hockey Sled Classic, a tournament between NHL affiliated teams. For the first tournament, a total of 46 players participated on teams affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.
A year later, the Philadelphia Flyers hosted over 100 of the nation’s top sled hockey players for the second annual event.
Thanks to the NHL’s involvement, sled hockey teams have been able to take the game outside. Angie McCoy got to see her 16-year-old son, Daniel, score a hat trick in a sled hockey game as part of the lead up to the 2011 Winter Classic. Sled hockey is also on the agenda for events surrounding the upcoming 2013 Winter Classic in Detroit.
From Leigh’s first meeting with the Lightning to what it is today, sled hockey has flourished in the United States. And given how far the sport has come over these few short years, we could one day look back and see this as the beginning of something even greater.
- WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Ducks, Western Conference Final Game 7 0
- After prepping for three years, Franson excited to test free agency 7
- Sabres’ Kane (shoulder) ‘ahead of schedule’ with recovery 17
- Lightning ‘answer the challenge’ in Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final 37
- Vigneault: McDonagh was playing with a broken foot 21
- Bolts strike Stanley Cup Final berth thanks to Game 7 win over Rangers 76
- The Ducks got Kesler for a game like Saturday’s 32
- Duchene slams Russian players for storming off after Canada’s 2015 WHC win 58
- DeBoer predicts ‘big bounce-back’ in San Jose 14
- Sabres name Bylsma head coach 46
- Kesler on wearing down Chicago: ‘No human can withstand that many hits’ (77)
- Bolts strike Stanley Cup Final berth thanks to Game 7 win over Rangers (76)
- From healthy scratch to hero: Vermette scores OT winner for Blackhawks (66)
- Duchene slams Russian players for storming off after Canada’s 2015 WHC win (58)
- Report: Bylsma to Sabres being held up by compensation issue (56)