54 rinks in 54 hours: How you can support disabled hockey this weekend

The USA Sled Hockey team won gold at the 2009 World Championships and will go for gold again in Vancouver at the 2010 Paralympic Games.

This weekend, a group called EveryBODY Skates New Jersey will travel up and down the state, hitting all 54 NJ hockey rinks in an attempt to raise awareness for disabled hockey. Disabled hockey programs often times have trouble establishing themselves at local rinks because ice time is at a premium and owners do not believe that it's a profitable endeavor. From their website, everybodyskates.com:

Convincing these business owners to set aside ice time for disabled programs, especially ones they know little about, is a challenge. Most rink owners, managers and decision makers within county and local governments do not understand that disabled hockey programs can pay their own way. These programs just need a chance to grow, a small commitment from the rink and little support from the community.

They'll complete the 1,370 mile journey in 54 hours, beginning Friday morning at 5 AM in New York City's Central Park and ending Sunday at 5 PM at the Prudential Center in Newark when the Devils take on the Los Angeles Kings.

On Saturday, they will hit the Philadelphia and South Jersey area, beginning at Princeton's Hobey Baker Rink at 9 AM before traveling south and hitting four other rinks in time to hit the Wachovia Center at 1 PM. The Flyers will honor the group prior to their game with the New York Islanders. After the game, they'll cross back over the bridge to hit six more rinks in southern New Jersey.

Here's that portion of their schedule:

4:00 PM - Flyers Skate Zone, Pennsauken

5:00 PM - Hollydell Ice Arena, Sewell

5:00 PM  - Canlan Ice Sports, Vineland

6:00 PM - The Igloo at Mt. Laurel, Mt. Laurel

7:30 PM - Flyers Skate Zone, Voorhees

8:00 PM - Flyers Skate Zone, Atlantic City

At this point, you're probably wondering how you can support this effort. The first and most obvious way is to simply head out to these events and support EveryBODY Skates NJ. According to the group, you'll be able to meet the athletes at each event. By showing up at the rinks, you'll pass the message on to rink owners that disabled hockey programs deserve ice time just as much as able-bodied hockey programs.

The group says that the time constraints of the trip might require quick in-and-out stops at several of the rinks. Looking at the times and the distances between some of those rinks, it's safe to assume that the stops at Hollydell, Vineland, Mt. Laurel, and Voorhees will be quick stops. The groups' website says that a meaningful activity will take place at each rink visited, however; whether that be a ceremonial puck drop at a game, allowing able-bodied players to try a sled, or skating around during public skating sessions.

You can also head on over to their website and sign a petition, which encourages New Jersey ice rinks to make one hour of ice time per week available for disabled hockey programs. Follow them on Twitter as well, and of course spread the word to your hockey-loving friends.

Hockey truly is for everybody, and by supporting this effort, you can help make sure that becomes even more a reality.

More reading: Puck Daddy, Bergen Record, and Fanhouse

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