OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - The San Jose Sharks Youth Sled Hockey Team is a championship sports team made up of boys with physical disabilities is
It's a sport that most of us aren't familiar with, but it's one that the boys say has changed their lives.
They range in age from 9 to 18 years old. They are from as far north as Sacramento and south to San Jose.
Many can't walk and need a wheelchair. Others rely on crutches or braces. But in the rink, it's a whole new world.
The chill of the Oakland Ice Center warms the spirit of these boys. "The adrenaline rush is awesome," says Garnett Silver-Hall.
With sleds and modified hockey sticks, they have fluidity in motion and speed. that isn't possible off the ice.
"It's my passion now," says Garnett.
Playing sled hockey taught Garnett an important lesson.
"In life, you can do anything if you want to," says the 15-year-old.
He was born with arthrogryposis, a joint condition that keeps him from walking. But he says sled hockey frees him from the confines of a wheelchair and stereotypes.
"I've become a lot more independent. I've flown all over the country by myself with my team. And things in my daily life, I'm doing much more independently now," says Garnett.
He scored three goals to help his team win the national championship game on Sunday against the Illinois Hornets.
Nine-year-old Thomas Giavonola who has spina bifida needs crutches to get around, scored the winning goal in the playoff to get his team into the championship game.
"I like to make people proud. It includes my team mates, my dad, mom, coach and brother," says Thomas.
When asked if he enjoyed the sport because he u wants everybody to know he can play sports just like everybody else, he replied, " Yeah...and that I have some serious skill."
Goalie Eyan Gilder was born with cerebral palsy. He says the sport has helped him cope with difficult times.
"I've gone thru several surgeries. It's made my life a lot easier. It's given me another outlet. Instead of just going to school and going home," says Eyan. .
Head coach Trooper Johnson is paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident when he was 18.
The four -time Paralympian in wheelchair basketball says sled hockey is his passion.
He says the sport transforms how the boys see themselves.
"There's something to be said for the value of a kid falling down and learning to get back up," says Johnson
Here at the rink, the boys are not defined by their physical disability. They are on an even playing field with their peers.
"When we get them around other kids who are experiencing the same things as them . it tends to lead to a lot more growth , independence, social independence and just personal growth overall," says Johnson.
"My dream is to compete in the Paralympics for USA in sled hockey," says Garnett.
Team officials say few people know about youth sled hockey. They hope that by shining a light on what the sport has done for these boys will get others interested and involved.
The San Jose Youth Sled Hockey Team is part of Bay Area Outreach and Recreation which offers sports programs for children with disabilities free of charge.
Contact the group of Oakland Ice Center for more information.