Posted at: 11/25/2013 6:00 PM
Updated at: 11/27/2013 10:51 PM
By: Laura Kennedy
Hockey is in Ezra McPhail's blood. But two years ago, an injury nearly took him out of the game.
"I was playing juniors, and I went to go check a kid and he went down to a knee. I ended up going head first into the boards and suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury," McPhail said.
Ezra was able to work his way back to walking with crutches or braces, but the ice still beckoned. That's when he found sled hockey.
"It was great therapy for me I think," McPhail said. "I found it right away after I was hurt against doctors orders. But I had to get back on the ice."
Now, he plays with a Twin Cities team and is also involved with Duluth Area Special and Sled Hockey, or DASSH.
"He came up to me at school and said so, have you ever thought about playing hockey? And I said, when I had two legs," said Hanna Hughes, a UMD student.
Hughes lost her right leg to bone cancer three years ago. She's now cancer free, but thought her days of being an athlete were over.
"After I had the surgery and I was in a wheelchair I was like oh, I guess I'm never playing sports again," Hughes said. "Then I met Ezra and everything changed."
Hockey is something that unites the community of Duluth, and this organization gives athletes an opportunity to get on the ice and be part of a team.
"Hockey is for everyone and it's great to start it up here now," McPhail said.
DASSH welcomes all players regardless of disability or skill level. Hughes says it takes some time to learn the ropes.
"It's difficult staying upright, not tipping over, and playing with all boys it gets pretty aggressive," Hughes said.
Instructor Lee Costley says players quickly find their competitive edge.
"I get more from them than I can ever give them back.," Costley said. "Their competitiveness exceeds anything I have ever seen from another player."
And like any aspiring athlete, they dream big.
"My goal is to try out for the USA women's team next summer," Hughes said.
"It's a blast. it's an absolute blast," Costley said. "The game has no boundaries, no limits."