DELMAR: Open ice for everyone

The Sabres are looking forward to having another sled hockey program in upstate New York.

"Our goal was to get a Thruway league," said Sabres sled hockey manager Gail Balsdon. "We want teams in Erie (Pa.), Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany."

Rules of the game

Sled hockey has six players to a side " a goaltender, two defensemen and three forwards. Line changes take place either during stoppages or on the fly whenever needed, and all the normal hockey lines, goals and rules are used. The primary differences are that reserves sit along the boards in front of the benches, and players serve penalties in front of the penalty box, since those areas are usually not handicap accessible.

"It's an awesome sport for the kids," said Kevin Ball, one of the Sabres' sled hockey program coaches and a father of a player. "It's the only sport that allows them to play a regular sport."

Though the sport is designed for those with lower-body disabilities, it's also open to able-bodied players. That means Luke and Ben Wilson could conceivably share the ice, which is something their mother said has always been one of Luke's goals.

"He's always wanted to keep up with Ben, which is why he's done so well (in sports)," said Kim.

Unlimited potential

Sled hockey players aren't limited to playing in weekend tournaments. There are national and international competitions, including the Paralympics " the quadrennial sporting event for disabled athletes that are held in Olympic host cities.

Brad Emmerson was one of three members of the Buffalo Sabres sled hockey program that competed on the bronze medal-winning United States team at last year's Paralympics in Turin, Italy.

"It's something that growing up as a kid, I never thought I'd experience," said Emmerson, who has cerebral palsy from the waist down. "It was amazing. (The fans) were crazy up there. The U.S. fans were the loudest group. We fed off that the whole time."

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