Neilsen Foundation Grant Supports All In Program's Sled Hockey Silver Medal Effort at Empire State Games

The Springfield Thunderbirds Sled Hockey Team finished the prestigious tournament with a championship loss, but it certainly didn’t end on a sour note, as they brought home the silver—in the same arena in which the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” US Olympic Hockey Team won the Gold Medal in Lake Placid, NY.

The Thunderbirds sled squad is administered by CHD’s All In: Barrier-Free Recreation program, which provides compelling recreational activities for adults and children with disabilities. The opportunity to play in the Empire State Winter Games February 2-4 in Lake Placid was made possible by a grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

The Neilsen Foundation provided All In with a two-year grant of $31,538 for its programming in sled hockey, which is similar to “stand up” hockey, except that participants sit on a sled that has skate blades and a runner in front, and use two shortened hockey sticks with a blade on one end and a pick on the other end, which enable them to propel themselves across the ice.

The grant supports the sled hockey team, including equipment, travel, and other operational costs, as well as tournament costs, including not only the Empire State Games, but also the upcoming Amelia Park Sled Hockey Tournament in Westfield on April 5-7—and any other tournaments the team may play in during FY 2025 between July and the end of June 2025.

“It was such a thrill to watch our team play in the ‘Miracle on Ice’ Herb Brooks Arena,” said All In Program Manager Jessica Levine. “We worked our butts off—I’m so proud of everyone involved.”

The T-Birds magical tournament run included victories over the Buffalo Sled Vets (6-1), the Capital District Sled Warriors (7-0), the Central New York Flyers (6-2), and the Fort Drum Mountain Warriors (2-0). Our upstart Bay State Skaters had come to New York and were on the verge of pulling off a miracle of their own, but they lost the title game, 5-3, to the Buffalo Sled Vets.

The sled hockey program consists of individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI), as well as other intellectual and physical conditions. For some All In sled hockey players, participating in the sport is originally something they thought they could never do, but on the ice, they redefine what they are capable of accomplishing. “It’s really enjoyable to see the first moments when a kid is saying, ‘I can actually do this,’” said Kincade, a sled hockey player with SCI. “The sense of accomplishment is noticeable. It’s so enjoyable to see the transformation on their faces. You can see them light up. It’s beautiful.”

The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation is the largest private funder of spinal cord injury, research, education, clinical training, and programmatic support in the US and Canada.