Ten years after the train accident that left him a bilateral amputee, twenty one year old
Chris Manns of Buffalo has earned the distinction of being selected to play on the USA
Ice Sledge Hockey Team in the upcoming 2002 Winter Paralympics. The Paralympics,
which take place shortly after the completion of the Olympics, features world class
physically challenged athletes competing in various sporting events. The Paralympics
will be held March 7 - 16 in Salt Lake City.
In 1994, Chris received a phone call asking him to participate in the Western New York
Games for the Physically Challenged. That led to him joining The Buffalo Freeze, the
local sledge hockey team. Although the team got off to a slow start, they have improved
tremendously within a few years time, and have been performing competitively for the
past two years. They follow the same rules as the National Hockey League. Several
members of The Buffalo Freeze tried out for the USA Ice Sledge Hockey Team, but
Chris was the only Western New Yorker selected. Chris, who is a bilateral above
knee/below knee amputee, plays left wing. The staff at Nelson Prosthetic & Orthotic
Laboratory is assisting Chris in his quest for the gold by custom fabricating the sled he
will be using to compete in the games. Although it is very different from fabricating
Chris' prostheses, the staff welcomed the opportunity to be a part of such an exciting
Coaching Chris and his teammates on the USA Ice Sledge Hockey Team is former NHL
player Rick Middleton. Acquiring Coach Middleton and his 16 years of NHL experience
has given the team a chance to win a medal in Salt Lake City. During his tenure with the
NHL, Middleton spent two years with the New York Rangers before being traded to the
Boston Bruins, where he finished out his career. The coach is no stranger to hockey's
finest, having played with (or against) big names Ray Bourque, Wayne Gretzky, Mario
Lemeiux and Phil Esposito.
Middleton was introduced to the sport of ice sledge hockey in February at a Tampa Bay
camp. Since then, he's "really been taken by the guys and the sport itself." Middleton
knows that there are no "gimmies" in ice sledge hockey. He admits that for a team
seeded last, "there is only one way to go and that is up." Nevertheless, he believes that
the 2002 Paralympic Games will be different because the USA team will have experience
at a world-class level. At the 1998 Nagano Games, the team had no formal training and
lacked an efficient system of play. After the 1998 Games, the team decided to "raise the
bar" and look for a coach with hockey experience.
Despite being a newcomer to the sport, Middleton has high expectations for his team,
especially when it comes to defenseman Sylvester Flin and forward Joe Howard. "These
athletes are going to be the quarterbacks of the team and will be playing a lot of
minutes." Flin, who was unable to participate in the '98 Games because of citizenship
issues, received US status in 2000. His presence should give the 2002 team a huge boost.
As the Paralympics approach, the USA Ice Sledge Hockey Team will not be
scrimmaging against other squads. "We don't want to show the other teams what we
have, and playing one of the top teams in the world might be psychologically damaging,"
USA's Ice Sledge Hockey Team will travel to Dallas in December and Miami in January.
The following month, the team will hold two training camps, the first of which will be in
either Minneapolis or Chicago. The team will round out their training in Lake Placid,
New York, site of the "1980 Miracle on Ice". The past few years have held a lot of hard
work and many adjustments for Middleton's players. While the road from Nagano to Salt
lake has been windy at times, the team hopes that 2002 will lead straight to the gold.
Nelson Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory wishes Chris and all his teammates lots of luck
in their quest!
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