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Alaska Sled Hockey Team Gets Taste of Real Action

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 16:16


Anchorage, AK - Athletics was a major part of Nathan Carey's childhood. That all changed when the 2006 Dimond High grad broke his back six years ago.

After all, contact sports and wheelchairs don't mix -- or so Carey thought. Then he found sled hockey.

Carey, who just finished his first full season with the Alaska Avalanche sled hockey team, said the sport gives people like him the opportunity to engage in physical competition despite their injuries.

"This is the first thing I found since breaking my back that is full contact," Carey said following a game Tuesday at the Subway Sports Centre.

The Alaska Avalanche played four games against a visiting Buffalo squad, marking their first home games against a real opponent since the team started a decade ago. A typical "season" for the Avalanche includes weekly intrasquad scrimmages at Palmer Ice Arena.

Sled hockey isn't much different from "stand up" hockey, the term sled hockey players use to describe the more well known version of the sport. The biggest difference is how players maneuver on the ice.

Players sit in a sled, which has two skate blades on the bottom and a runner in the front to form a tripod. In each hand they hold a stick, which has a blade at one end and a pick, like the kind found on the toe of a figure skate, on the other.

A majority of the rules are the same as traditional hockey, and checking is permitted.

That's Carey's favorite part of sled hockey. The sport also provides the type of camaraderie only shared between teammates -- something that's been hard to find since his injury, Carey said.

"This is your first team feeling again," he said.


There's another aspect to the sport that appeals to Carey -- the equality among all players that sitting in a sled creates.

"It takes you out of your disability," he said. "Everybody is on the same playing field."

That goes for all players on the Avalanche, a roster that includes skaters with physical disabilities and traumatic brain injuries as well as some who are able-bodied. The Avalanche have plenty of the latter.

Chris Milbrett is one such skater. He started playing in 2003, when the Challenge Alaska team was called the Alaska Icers.

Sled hockey is a sport he can play with his father, Gerry. While working for Klondike Concrete, a 1,000-pound tank fell on Gerry Milbrett. It was the same day his other son, Jesse, now 22, was born. Today, the three Milbretts and two cousins account for five of the 13 Avalanche players.

"I just love it," Chris said. "It's with my dad."

Gerry, the team captain, said hockey helps release frustration. It's also a rare opportunity when he's not treated as a delicate person in a wheelchair.

"We bang," he said. "Tempers flare just like regular hockey."


Following his injury, Gerry received some good advice: stay active. He encourages others in a similar situation to do the same.

"Your life can change like that," Gerry said, snapping his fingers.

But a disability doesn't mean an end to sports, he said. In fact, Gerry didn't become a hockey fan until after his injury. Now, he's hooked.

"It's a way of life," he said.

Sled hockey introduced Gerry to a new sport, but for Israel Hale, it helped him continue to skate after he lost both legs two years ago when a car smashed into him while he was inspecting a trailer behind his truck on Dimond Boulevard.

"Losing your legs, there's so much you can't do," Hale said. "To play hockey like I used to is just really great."

trip to Buffalo

The path to the Avalanche's games this week started with a 2009 trip to Buffalo, New York, for the Disabled Hockey Festival.

There, Alaska coach Jeff Dick met Norm Page, USA Hockey's sled hockey representative and the father of Adam Page, a member of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic hockey team.

Page helped raise funds to bring the Buffalo Sabres Sled Vets, comprised of 16 military veterans and a majority of players 50 and older, to Anchorage for two games Monday and two on Tuesday.

This is only the third time the Avalanche have played real games. The team traveled to Outside tournaments twice, most recently to Buffalo five years ago, and until this week it had never played a real game on home ice.

"It's history for us," Gerry Milbrett said.


Prior to the fourth and final game of the series, Dick discussed strategy with the Avalanche. He told his team to expect a different game plan from Buffalo. He told them he wanted every player to register a shot on goal.

The pregame message delivered by Dick could have been given to stand-up players lacing up their skates as easily as the team it was meant for in a locker room crowded with players, spouses, service dogs and wheelchairs.

"Hockey is hockey in a sled, too," Milbrett said.

Tuesday's outcome was the same as all four games, a victory for the home team.

Reach Mike Nesper at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 257-4335.

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Expressions of Paralysis

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 12:02

This past February, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Ambassador and advocate Ruben Rios passed away. Ruben was a talented artist who painted with acrylics and oils, and developed a keen acumen for pointillism, creating beautiful scenes with the point of his felt tip pen. He was also an active member of the spinal cord injury (SCI) community and encouraged others living with SCI to find creative outlets of their own. This unique call for art celebrates Ruben's life and the ongoing work of the Reeve Foundation to improve the quality of life and well-being for people living with paralysis. Read more about Ruben Rios.

What: This spring, the Reeve Foundation is launching a call for inspirational artwork created by members of the community. Selected entries will be showcased on the walls of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation office in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Who: Emerging and established artists who have been touched by paralysis are encouraged to submit their art, including: individuals living with paralysis, family members, friends, and/or caregivers. You do not have to be a mouth painter to enter.

Top selections may also be displayed at an art showcase in New York in conjunction with an event hosted by the Reeve Foundation/Mobile Women during the summer of 2014.

When: Photo of the artwork and submission form is due by May 23, 2014 at 5:00pm ET.
Round 1: A Reeve Foundation panel will meet to select the top pieces for online voting. This will take place between May 27 and June 13, 2014.
Round 2: The winners will be decided by an online vote. This will start on June 16 and end on June 29, 2014 at 5:00pm ET.

Medium: Eligible artwork must be able to be displayed on walls. Examples include: drawings, paintings, digital-print canvas, graffiti art, and framed photography. All selected artwork must be ready to hang. This means: Pieces must have wires, saw tooth hangers, or another secure, hanging device attached -- lightweight canvases less than five inches are the only exception.

Visit to apply.

Team USA closes track cycling worlds with nine medalsTeam USA closes track cycling worlds with nine medals

AGUASCALIENTES, Mexico -  Team USA closed out the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships with a bronze medal from Jennifer Schuble in the women’s scratch race to bring the total medal count to nine on the final day of competition at the at the Bicentenary Velodrome.

Team USA was markedly improved from their last showing at the 2012 edition of the championships where they brought home four medals. The Americans more than doubled their medal haul as they won two golds, three silvers and four bronzes. Team USA also had three incredibly close fourth place finishes.

“We couldn’t be happier with how the team prepared and how they performed,” said Ian Lawless high performance director for U.S. Paralympics cycling. “To more than double our medals from the last track worlds was fantastic. The difference for the team is that we now have one of the greatest coaches in the world with Andy Sparks, we have had focused training that allowed our team to arrive in Mexico 100 percent ready, and our team morale and cohesion is better than it has ever been.

“To top it all off, we were able to have Jenny [Schuble] win a medal in the scratch race, and it’s the first time it has been a medal event at the world championships, so our team couldn’t be happier with how we performed here in Mexico.”

It was a busy day for Schuble (Birmingham, Ala.) as she raced in the  qualification and final of the team sprint and the women’s scratch race. In the scratch race, Schuble patiently maintained her position with the main pack after Sarah Storey of Great Britain lapped the field. Schuble then held off two members of the chase pack to claim the bronze in a sprint for the finish line. Schuble also won silver in the C5 women’s time trial earlier in the week.

“It was an amazing feeling to get a medal against really tough competitors,” Schuble said. “For me to turn around from the team sprint, in these crazy hot conditions, and get third place, I’m very happy. It was a great race with lots of attacks, it was a clean race, we all stayed upright, and we showed the UCI that this race should stay in, and hopefully it is added to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.”

In the team sprint Schuble, Jason Kimball (Charlotte, N.C.) and Chris Murphy (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) advanced to the bronze medal final where they faced-off with Russia. The American’s finished fourth, less than two-tenths of a second off of the podium.

In the morning’s tandem sprints, the U.S. teams advanced to the quarterfinal round where they both set American records. Karissa Whitsell and pilot Jennifer Triplett, both of Colorado Springs, Colo. finished eighth, while Clark Rachfal (Annapolis, Md.) and pilot Dave Swanson (Tucson, Ariz.) finished sixth.

The U.S. Paralympic Cycling National Team will make a quick transition to the roads for the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup in Castiglione Della Pescaia, Italy in early May.

For complete results and more information, visit

For more information, please contact Katie Branham, U.S. Paralympics, at 719-237-9407 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Welcome to Challenge Alaska

Challenge Alaska strives to improve the lives of people with disabilities and the whole community through adaptive sports, therapeutic recreation and education. Participation in our programs helps people break down the barriers that exist for them in many aspects of life, by building confidence and security, creating an infrastructure for support, increasing mobility, and improving health; which in turn promotes education, social development and involvement, employment, and the ultimate goal of independence.

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