Mighty Penguins Sled Hockey Teams Leave it all “On the Ice” at the Disability Festival in St. Louis
For the first time in our 25-year history, the Mighty Penguins Sled Hockey organization sent four teams to an out-of-state destination for the 2022-2023 USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival Held this year in St. Louis, MO, for four days in April, our teams battled in one youth tier and three different adult tiers of competition against other sled hockey teams from across the country.
Mighty Penguins sled hockey began 25 years ago with an introduction of the sport to families from Shriner’s Hospital volunteers. A handful of our families who are still involved today then had the vision to bring sled hockey to Pittsburgh! Because of their dedication to provide an inclusive and competitive sport to our area, we have reached hundreds of children and adults living with disabilities.
Our teams and family members took the road, air, and even chartered buses to make the long trip to St. Louis. Coached by Leigh Anne Kustra and Scott Gelston, our youth (Junior Black) team competed in the top youth tier and made it to the semi-final round. Coached by Nate Manual and James Michael along with assistance from Evan Buchheit, our Adult Gold team were mostly new to this level of national competition but made great strides in learning how to work as a team and came home a much stronger unit. We are proud of each athlete who gave it their all and represented our organization with professionalism and good sportsmanship.
Two of our Adult teams returned as the champions in their divisions: The Senior Team are the reigning Tier 1 Champions, and it showed. Coached by Ray Harding, Mark McCoy, and Brian Knotts, the Senior Team finished undefeated in their Tier 1 bracket to win the championship in a nailbiter shoot out! Goalie Joe Gibson made the winning save to conclude and commemorate his successful 10-year sled hockey career. We wish Joe the very best in his future endeavors. Equally exciting, our Adult Black Team, coached by Joe McCormick and Lou Ruzzi, gave their all and won the Tier 5 Championship.
The experience of traveling as a team is priceless. The athletes enjoyed the amenities St. Louis has to offer and even with a very busy hockey schedule, we were able to capture a group photo of the four represented teams (attached) and enjoy a group pizza party. Several athletes also managed to visit the St. Louis arch and attend the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the Cardinals game. Overall, this trip was fun, competitive, and a great success.
It takes a village to keep our organization running and the dedication of our athletes, coaches, families, and volunteers for the past 25 years has continued to bring joy and success to all involved. A tremendous thank you to our coaches and board members who volunteer their time. For more information on the Mighty Penguins Sled Hockey, Inc. organization and ways to volunteer, please contact Christine Hupkovich at: [email protected].