Ryan Mueller still remembers the night well – when he received word he would don the letter U-S-A on his sweater
Ryan: Found out in Madison that Saturday night, before we got on the ice that I made the team.
Ryan Mueller has been playing with the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey team for 12 years. He was one of six members from the program to be selected to skate with the USA team.
Kim: Of course mom was video taping and taking pictures, it was very emotional for all of us. All the players that got letters that day and got selected to be on that team – it was very, very exciting for all of them. And we were really proud of Ryan for practicing hard and doing his best so he could make the team.
Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey
Paul and Kim Mueller’s two sons, Ryan and Mikey, both play hockey with the Blackhawks special hockey team. And it wasn’t until this past year that there was even a USA team to aspire to.
Paul: Team USA was discussed with the Directors and Coaches over the summer time and they actually put together a list of players they would submit for the Team USA. Ryan was on the list and what they had to do was tryout.
Melanie: USA Hockey has always supported disabled hockey. There’s been a national team for sled hockey, last year there was a national team for blind hockey. And they wanted to get all of their disciplines of disabled hockey to participate so they didn’t want to leave special out of it. So, now there’s a national team for special hockey. And it is the inaugural year. We were lucky enough to have 6 of our players to qualify to be on the national team. We’re very fortunate and it’s a very exciting thing.
Melanie Freeman is the director of Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey – joining after her son Evan began playing. She has seen first hand how the program fosters growth, even in players who’ve never worn skates.
Melanie: What we’re here to say is: hockey is for everyone and that’s why is doesn’t matter what level you’re at. We start em little, they have to be at least 5 years old. And then our oldest one is 59 years old and they have all kinds of abilities.
Kim: Hockey is a great sport. These kids are very talented and there’s great coaches and they teach them every week.
A Opportunity for all players
Affiliated with the professional team, Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey is a Blackhawk charity – an entity that has opened doors for so many players in the Chicagoland area.
Paul: We can’t thank the Blackhawks enough for what they do for this team and how they sponsor us and support us. We started at one rink and now we’re at five. And every time there’s a chance to open up at a different rink, they are fine.
And it’s that willingness to grow the sport and provide chances for potential players that set Ryan and Mikey down the road of skating.
Paul: He was 12 years old and couldn’t skate. Didn’t even have skates to put on. But once he started getting on the ice, he immediately started taking to it and every week a coach would grab him and get him on the ice and get him skating – individually, one-on-one, every week.
12 years later and now Ryan is set to skate with red, white and blue threads – making his family proud as can be
Kim: 20 years ago is when Chicago Blackhawks special hockey started and they’ve been playing for 11 and 12 years and it’s been wonderful for those 12 years.
Paul: Once we found out that he made the team, that’s when I think it really sunk in.
Reporting for Sports Story Sunday, I’m Kevin Jackman