The 5th Annual Fort Drum Mountain Warrior Sled Hockey Tournament returns to the Roo’s House at SUNY Canton for an action packed weekend March 3rd-5th. Mark McKenna, the tournament organizer and Head Coach of the Mountain Warrior Sled Hockey team of Fort Drum says he looks forward to another great weekend of sportsmanship and camaraderie, as well as the opportunity to raise awareness about the sport.
“Although the sport is growing, there are still many people who have never heard of sled hockey,” says McKenna. “In the adaptive sport, each player is seated in a sled mounted on two blades. They propel themselves using two shortened sticks with ice picks mounted at the handle of the stick. Each of the players on the team face certain challenges, but I’ll tell you, they move quickly and compete fiercely.”
The team was founded in 2011 when Mr. McKenna was working out in the gym at Fort Drum where he is employed as a Civil Engineer. He noticed a wounded soldier make his way around the gym to a few pieces of equipment in his wheelchair. Because of accessibility issues, the soldier was unable to get a workout in and left the gym. “I went to try to catch him to offer some help, but he was too quick for me”, said McKenna. “I returned to the gym and asked the staff what they did for disabled soldiers; did they offer wheelchair basketball or sled hockey for team sports? They hadn’t even heard of sled hockey! I commute an hour to work each day so my wheels were really turning, I knew we needed to do more for our soldiers who have sacrificed so much for the rest of us” he continued.
After utilizing a few contacts, including USA Hockey Disabled Section, the Warriors in Transition Unit at Fort Drum, Unique Inventions or Ontario and the four local colleges, Mark was able to host a two-day training clinic and recruit 24 wounded soldiers and athletes to his team.
In 2015, Hospice joined in the planning process to provide support with event promotion and supply volunteers at the event. “Working with the Mountain Warriors fits really well with the Hospice philosophy” said Kellie Hitchman, Director of Development and Community Relations. “Each day our staff works to assist patients and their families in living to the fullest, despite the circumstances they face with serious illness. These athletes exemplify living to the fullest each time they take the ice. Additionally, Hospice is a level 4 partner in the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s We Honor Veterans program which focuses on informing the community of the needs of veterans and creating multi- agency partnerships to assist in meeting those needs. It’s a good fit with what everyone involved is trying to accomplish” she continued. “One of the big things we are promoting in the tournament this year is the Veteran’s face-off at 4:30pm on Saturday, March 4th. The Fort Drum Mountain Warriors will take on the Buffalo Warrior Vets. While we hope to see fans at games throughout the tournament, we really hope to see a lot of support for the veterans who sacrificed so much for us. All of the athletes are truly inspiring”, she finished.
The tournament last year raised more than $10,000 to support the Fort Drum Mountain Warriors Sled Hockey Team to allow the players to continue to pursue athletics despite injuries and disabilities. “We hope to do as well as we did last year” said Mr. McKenna. “That really helped us maintain our equipment and helped with tournament fees so we could travel and compete in many other tournaments.”
Play begins at 7:00AM on Friday morning with a break between noon and 2:00PM when games will resume. The last game of the day starts at 5:00PM. The Knights of Columbus in Canton will sponsor a dinner for the teams Friday night. Friday night’s dinner will feature motivational speaker and amputee athlete, Dave Stevens. Dave was born without legs and has been playing sports all his life. Even before adaptive sports were created, Dave was a three-season athlete at his high school in Arizona competing in able-bodied sports and eventually went on to become the VP at ESPN studios. Learn more about Dave’s incredible story by visiting davesimpossibledream.com.
Action will resume at 7:00AM on Saturday with a break from 12:30-2:00PM, during the break there will be a community skate where spectators can try out a sled. Throughout the tournament fans can enter to win multiple prizes during the weekend-long silent auction; past items in the auction have included a signed jersey, equipment and other sports memorabilia. There will also be a raffle for a Yeti Tundra Cooler valued at $350, a 50/50 raffle and chuck-a-puck contest. Games will conclude with the Championship game and closing ceremonies at 10:30am on Sunday, March 5th. All games will take place at the Roo’s House on the SUNY Canton Campus.
More information on the 5th Annual Fort Drum Mountain Warriors Sled Hockey Tournament can be found by visiting their Facebook page at Fort Drum Mountain Warrior Sled Hockey, Inc. or by contacting Kellie Hitchman at 315-265-3105. Mark McKenna can be reached at 315-854-0383 to answer questions about sled hockey or the Fort Drum Mountain Warriors.