Special needs players build key bonds

Tournament helps special needs players develop strong friendships

Backed up by teammate Austin McLelland

Backed up by teammate Austin McLelland

Building bonds and having fun was goal for players in the Special Needs Hockey League tournament.

“Winning is not what we emphasize,” said Upper Dek Vees coach Jay Bungay. “Relationships are important for these guys.”

Bungay emphasized that it’s about participation and sportsmanship.

“They like winning, but they come out winners anyway,” he said.

The tournament, held at the Okanagan Hockey Academy Training Centre on March 10, gave players a chance to hang out and build friendships. Participating in the tournament were the Nanaimo Eagles in the senior division, while the juniors had the Kelowna Wildcats, Kamloops Blazers and Vernon Scorehawks.

The tournament also had a skills competition. There was an obstacle course, speed race and target shooting.

“It went great, they had so much fun,” said Bungay. “Try to skate fast enough to slide under things.”

Vees player Scott Stephenson participated and attempted a slick move.

“I tried to put the puck on my stick and do a spin move. It went good,” said Stephenson. “It was fun. I just liked being out there with all the guys.”

He wasn’t the fastest though. David Sawicki won completing the course in 19 seconds.

Bruce Neirop of the Vees, who enjoyed watching the skills event, loved the challenge of the games.

While the Vees and Eagles played twice with the Vees winning the first game 6-1 then tying the second 4-4, it was fun for the players. Neirop said he enjoyed “being part of the team.”

“It went amazingly. I was really impressed,” said Bungay, who also participated in the coaches game. “Everybody was great and had a great time.”

While watching his team play, Bungay focused on seeing if his players brought the skills they learned in practice into the games.

“I saw some hockey, which I was happy about.”

Bungay was pleased everything went smoothly and thanked the volunteers for their support, the City of Penticton, Global Spectrum and Nikita Afonso for singing the national anthem. Next year the tournament will be held in Nanaimo and will return to Penticton in about three years.