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Sled hockey an inspiration for disabled athletes

5:14 PM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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There are two Tampa Bay Lightning teams calling the Forum home. One leads the Southeast division in the NHL. And the other serves as a model for the NHL when it comes to facilitating disabled athletes. 

Both have premiere players, but the Lightning team Steven Stamkos plays for only uses one stick, the other team uses two sticks.They have to, because they play on a sled.

"To them we are disabled but to us out here, we are not, said Travis Leigh founder of the Lightning sled hockey program.

The Lightning sled hockey team moves around the ice just like the NHL version of the Bolts, except they don't have the means to skate. The team is comprised of players that need to use a sled with blades attached to the bottom in order to move up and down the ice. 

"It's true hockey, there is scoring and checking, and the only difference is they don't have the ability to skate because of their disability," said Mike Celona, Lightning sled hockey head coach.

Leigh brought this idea to the lightning's attention 8 years ago and they've funded the program ever since. They provide equipment and ice time at the Forum. 

"I probably wouldn't be playing if it wasn't for the Lightning," said U.S. national team member Decklen Farmer.

Farmer is a prime example of how the two teams are opening up a brighter future for disabled athletes, he will go to South Korea and Canada twice this year representing the red, white and blue.

The team is made up of players of all ages, gender and skill levels. It has become a way for previous non-hockey fans to embrace the sport and their athletic goals.

"There is no sports team that does more for their disabled fans than the Lightning," said Leigh.

The sled hockey Lightning is the first of three Florida based programs and has plans to play against the best teams in the country in a national tournament this year.

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