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BUFFALO NATIVES HEADING TO PARALYMPICS

Saturday, 02.06.2010 / 7:42 PM / Amateur Hockey
By Erin Pollina  - Sabres.com
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BUFFALO NATIVES HEADING TO PARALYMPICS
2009 USA Sled Hockey Team (Google Images)
There are several members of the Buffalo Sabres organization heading to Vancouver this winter for the ultimate competition – and it’s not just Ryan Miller.

Mike Blabac, Brad Emmerson, Adam Page and Alexi Salamone are players you may not have heard of, but they are giving their Olympic dream every bit of dedication it deserves as they prepare to represent the United States – and Buffalo – as part of the National Sledge Hockey Team in the 2010 Paralympics.

All four athletes got their start locally, playing for the Buffalo Sabres Sled Hockey Team.

“We started the program about 16 years ago here in Buffalo,” said Head Coach Rich DeGlopper. “It was just kind of a spin off of seeing some of the Canadian teams coming down and putting some demonstrations on at the games for the physically challenged… We had some kids that were interested in it and we kind of picked it up from there.”

The community has since embraced the game to such a high degree that enrollment is now available for people ranging from 5 years old and up – including women’s hockey teams.

The rapid growth has earned Western New York the reputation as a sled hockey hotbed. So much so that a fellow Paralympian and US captain, Andy Yohe, decided to relocate his family from Iowa to Rochester in order to be closer to his teammates.

“I just wanted to get a lot of ice time and our trainer is here so it’s a great opportunity to work out and skate as much as possible,” said Yohe, who has previously competed with the squad in Torino. “It’s an amazing experience...  It just made me so much hungrier to go back and knowing Vancouver is the spot for the 2010 games.  And knowing that it’s such a huge hockey community up there is just going to be great to play.”

The United States captured Gold at the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. And while the five representatives from Buffalo hope to be a part of the team that regains the title for the Americans, they know that the success and evolution of their sport is already a major accomplishment.

Not only do they have the support of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, who help to sponsor the program and donate equipment and ice time, but the League overall is coming together help the game’s growth nationally.

“That’s going to be a tremendous boost to the program,” DeGlopper said. “There were only a couple of teams and they were located up here in the northeast, and now  -just like the NHL- it’s running all the way across the country… the sport is really growing and with the promotion now by the NHL, it’s only going to go faster and bring this to more boys and girls, men and women who thought there playing days were over.”


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