Organization looks to grow youth sled hockey program

Tyler Jacoby's love for hockey started sled hockey in the Triangle

Tyler Jacoby, 13, propels himself forward using hockey sticks with picks on one side to push off the ice. Tyler was born with spina bifida. (Christine T. Nguyen— / The North State Journal)

RALEIGH —— The way Tyler Jacoby zips around in his wheelchair, it’s no surprise he’s an athlete at heart.

“He was born with spina bifida,” his mother, Kelly Jacoby, said, “but we made a conscious effort to say, ‘You can do whatever you want to do.’ … The sky’s the limit.”

Tyler, 13, has been playing sled hockey for “six or seven years” after originally hitting the ice with the Triangle Special Hockey Association, a nearly 10-year-old organization that introduces and teaches hockey to developmentally and physically disabled children.

When Tyler first played with Triangle Special Hockey, he was pushed around the ice on a medal folding chair, armed with a stick so he could participate in his favorite sport.

“And he had a big grin on his face —— he was happy doing that,” Kelly said. “I thought, ‘This is cool, but we can do better.'”

Enter sled hockey.

“At first I didn’t know that this was a thing,” Tyler said. “So I wanted to play hockey. I was like, ‘I want to do this.’ And then my coach heard on the news about [sled hockey] and that’s how I found out about it.”

The Jacobys ordered a sled from Mobility Sports in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Tyler, then a first-grader, was on his way. Before long, the Carolina Sled Hockey Team spun out of Triangle Special Hockey and added several newcomers —— though mostly adults.

“We started marketing it a little bit and we got a bunch of adults that played wheelchair basketball,” Kelly said. “So they have the strength. It’s a fine line —— you need to have a disability, but you need to be strong enough to do it. It’s a very small pool for us to draw from. So we got a bunch of adults, and there’s a couple kids now he plays with, but it’s not enough to have a team.”

When the group practices, they split the ice with advanced and beginner player on either side. Tyler practices with the adults, but he plays in youth tournaments with a traveling team out of Nashville, Tenn.

“So our biggest problem right now is we don’t have a lot of youth,” Carolina Sled Hockey coach Joe Ribar said. “We’ve got like six kids, and of those six kids three might be competitive.”

While the hope is to recruit enough players to make a youth team in North Carolina, Tyler did get to play in one game with the adults during the Carolina Sled Classic when the team from Tampa., Fla., iced a player his age.

“We’re trying to grow the youth team,” Kelly said. “We’d love to have some more people around here that he could practice with regularly.”