Wings of Steel making sport possible for those with physical challenges

The sled hockey team plays ice hockey just like any other team, with one slight exception. Head coach Tom Brake was first introduced to the sport nearly two decades ago, and has been coaching ever since

Since 2001, the Voorhees Wings of Steel have offered South Jersey residents with physical challenges the opportunity to play ice hockey in a league with others just like them in a season running from September to April.

The ages can range from 5 to 17, and the game is played just like traditional hockey, with one exception.

“It’s identical to stand-up hockey, except they play a little bit closer to the ice,” said Tom Brake, coach for the Voorhees Wings of Steel. “We have designated sleds and sticks that we’ve purchased for them. It’s the same hockey that the Flyers or anyone else play.”

Brake started the team in 2001 and made a promise to himself the players would never have to pay a cent to be on the team, from sticks to sleds and pads or any other equipment that may be needed down the line.

“Cause they have enough hardship with doctors, hospitals, disabled equipment,” Brake said. “This is just my way to give back to them.”

Those who play in the league have a range of physical challenges, with those with cerebral palsy and amputees participating. Essentially, Brake says the team takes anyone who can’t stand upright.

He’s been involved in hockey in a variety of ways for nearly five decades. Nearly 20 years ago, Brake was a referee for ice hockey and was scheduled to work his first-ever sled hockey tournament at the Flyers Skate Zone in Atlantic City, introducing him to the sport for the first time, going in with no knowledge of it beforehand.

Brake recalls being apprehensive while on the ice for those first few games, saying he wasn’t comfortable with the players being that close to the ice at first.

He says one key moment stands out as what got him hooked during that tournament.

Brake, backing up, tripped over a kid and fell down over him.

“I fell over a kid and all I could see was my skate blades coming down on him,” Brake said.

Brake rolled over to see the kid laughing, with both having worried to see if the other was all right while both were actually fine.

“I called my wife and daughter to come down after that and we all got hooked on the sport,” Brake said. “And the rest is history.”

Brake started the Voorhees Wings of Steel shortly after the incident; four South Jersey sled hockey players who were at the tournament he refereed, then playing for a team based in Philadelphia, helped start the team with Brake.

Brake holds a fundraiser every year to raise money for the team, however the team is searching for a sponsor.

The sport has offered those with physical disabilities a chance to meet others with similar limitations to be on a team, something they may also have never done before.

The Wings of Steel sled hockey team is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and donations are tax-deductible. Donations and more information about the team can be found at www.wingsofsteel.org.