EDINA, Minn. — Kendall Thiede made her allegiances known as soon as she took the ice.
“I’m not high-fiving any St. Louis Blues players!” the Minnesota Wild fan and Minnesota Special Hockey player said Monday before skating with NHL players in the fifth annual Minnesota Special Hockey showcase at Da Beauty League, a 4-on-4 summer hockey league composed of NHL and Division I players with ties to Minnesota.
Moments later, Thiede was sprung on a breakaway, assisted by none other than the Blues defenseman Nick Leddy.
“She did say hi but commented on the St. Louis part,” Leddy said with a laugh. “I’m guessing she’s a pretty big Wild fan, so I get it. But it’s just a lot of fun to be a part of this. To give back when we can is so important.”
Leddy was joined by the New Jersey Devils forward Erik HaulaWinnipeg Jets defenseman Nate Schmidt and Philadelphia Flyers forwards Noah Cates and Jackson Cates in the showcase game between semifinal matchups of the summer league.
“The smiles on their faces are just so awesome,” Haula said. “We’re there for them. Seeing them enjoy it, that’s what it’s all about.”
Founded in the spring of 2006, Minnesota Special Hockey has more than 270 players in 16 cities across the state. The season opens the first week of November and runs until the first week of March, with tournaments and festivals held in addition to hour-long games and practices. Special Hockey has varying degrees of disability across all ages from 5 up to 50.
Jesse Guzeman, 7, and Dominic Guzeman, 6, are on the autistic spectrum.
“I like the skating,” said Dominic, who is in his first year of special hockey.
For their mother Erin, it’s been easy to watch them fall in love with hockey, especially with the approach Minnesota Special Hockey takes to ensure the experience is catered to each player.
“They don’t try to push them, but really work within their abilities,” she said. “It’s inclusive and they go at their own pace.”
Wild defenseman Matt Dumba has long been an advocate for inclusivity in the game of hockey. He was upset to have missed his opportunity to skate in the showcase game, but knows the importance such an event brings.
“It’s just so cool to see how strong the hockey community is,” he said. “When we do make that little bit more effort to include everyone, and bring everyone together and make them feel a part of this game, the bonds and relationships you can create are priceless.
“I think anyone who’s been in the game for a long time knows that it’s the best game around. The memories you make and the friendships you make along the road, it’s awesome. That should be welcome to everyone who wants it.”