Wickenheiser gives kids special weekend

(QMI Agency/Jason Halstead)

(QMI Agency/Jason Halstead)

JIM BENDER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:51 AM ET

It started with a simple letter and ended with a very special weekend for local sledge hockey players.

Four-time Olympic medallist Hayley Wickenheiser was on a sledge sliding on the ice with a mixed junior sledge hockey team at the MTS Iceplex on Saturday. The night before, some of those players were Wickenheiser’s guests at a University of Manitoba-U of Calgary women’s hockey game.

All thanks to a letter that seven-year-old sledge hockey player Lily Rich sent to Wickenheiser.

“As a girl, Lily has always identified with Hayley Wickenheiser, and wears Hayley’s number 22 on her Sledgehammer jersey,” her father, Gavin Rich, explained in an email. “This summer, on her own, Lily decided to send Hayley an autographed picture, signed Lily #22, in her sledge, plus a letter telling Hayley to ‘keep up the good work.’ Hayley responded saying it’s sure nice to RECEIVE an autographed picture, sent her own autographed picture to Lily, and invited the Junior Sledgehammers to the Dinos vs Bisons game (Friday night).”

Wickenheiser also promised to skate with the team in a sledge on Saturday. Wickenheiser, who scored two goals and an assist in Calgary’s 5-1 win over the Bisons, was good on her word and spent much of her time on the ice near Lily on Saturday.

So Lily, what was it like to be on the ice with the Canadian legend?

“Amazing!” cried the Grade 2 student. “I always wanted to meet a world-famous hockey player.”

Was she surprised Wickenheiser joined them on the ice?

“I didn’t see that coming,” Lily responded.

Why did she write the letter?

“I just wanted to, because she works really hard and she deserves to have a fan,” explained Lily, who has cerebral palsy.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Wickenheiser. “It’s a lot harder than it looks. The kids make it look pretty easy. I have a lot of respect for how much skill it takes and how hard it is. I enjoyed being out there with them and I’m glad that Lily invited me to come. It was a really enjoyable experience.

“She and her dad wrote me a letter and he said how much Lily loves hockey and wants to get to the Olympics … It really sort of touched me. We made a connection and here I am.”

About 10 sledge hockey players took in the Bisons game on Friday.

Sledge hockey is still a relatively new sport in Manitoba. The program began through the Society of Manitobans with Disabilities with six adults five years ago. There are now about 60 competing in the sport, with about 25 of those in the junior program, including Lily.

“We have kids with various degrees of disabilities,” said junior coach Renald Bilodeau. “Some don’t have the dexterity with their hands and their arms to propel themselves. Also, when they’re young, they just don’t have the strength (and are propelled by adults).”

It is an Olympic sport.

“Sledge players can’t dream of winning a Stanley Cup, but they can certainly dream of winning a gold medal at the Olympics playing for Team Canada,” wrote Gavin Rich. “Just like Hayley Wickenheiser.”

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca

twitter@bendersun 


Photos