Special Needs Hockey League Scores With Parents And Kids

Eager player, nervous dad!

I was more than a little nervous the first time my son suited up in hockey gear and hit the ice. He couldn’t skate, had no concept of hockey, and he has autism. I was scared.

Luckily, the coaches (especially the one-on-one Junior Coaches) of the New Jersey Dare Devils Hockey Club made it easy for both my son and I. They helped Rocco get suited up, (Hockey Rule #1: There is a LOT of equipment!) and out on the ice. The NJ Dare Devils Coaches (a shout out to Wayne’s own, Andy Piccirillo, Team Manager!) assured me everything would be fine.

“We haven’t met a kid yet we couldn’t teach to skate!” one coach assured me, but I was still anxious. I can’t skate, roller nor ice, and I felt very detached. All I could do was watch through the Plexiglass.

And what I saw wasn’t pretty, especially at first. My son spent most of his 45-minute skating session lying down on the ice. After three weeks of similar sessions, I was ready to bail on hockey.

But on his fourth trip to the ice, my son spent a solid 15 minutes up on his skates. The next week it was 30. Now he can skate the entire 45 minutes with only an occasional break.

His stick handling skills have improved, too. He’s not very speedy down the ice (most senior citizens could probably walk—and perhaps even skate—faster) but his passing game is good. Last week at practice he scored several goals, shooting into an empty net. I couldn’t have been more proud.

The New Jersey Dare Devils was started in 2002 by the mother of a child seeking to find a physical outlet for her child with autism. Today there are 50 boys and girls ages 6 to 28, with various special needs, playing for the NJDD at the Richard Codey Arena in West Orange NJ.  Supporting these special hockey players are 12 adult coaches and over 75 junior/student coaches who are local youth hockey players helping to instruct the NJDD players in the intricacies of the game.

Rocco gets ready to hit the ice!

The league gives generous holiday gifts to the players and coaches, and makes sure every player gets a monogrammed uniform and proper equipment (did I mention there’s A LOT of equipment?) This season, the Dare Devils will play road games in Rochester, Albany, Long Island, and Lake Placid, offering players and their families discount getaways and the chance to play abroad.

My son isn’t ready for road games just yet (nor is he ready for home games) but he’s part of the team. He’s trying, and, little by little, he’s succeeding.

And that’s the goal of NJ Dare Devils hockey.

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