The New Mexico Blade Runners recently became national champions in Sled Hockey. They dominated in Division 6 during the Disabled Hockey Festival in St. Louis, Missouri.
During the tournament, the team had 45 unanswered goals. Forward and University of New Mexico student Deavon Tabish-Moran said that communication and speed were key for the team to come back to the competition and take first after being third last year.
“We went back and we competed in the same division. We wanted to do well in it before moving up, and we came out and (were) much more dominant than we were anticipating,” Tabish-Moran said.
Placing first in the qualifying round allowed the team to clinch a bye for the first round where they went on to have an astounding showing. Isaac Lill, a forward on the team, scored the first point in the championship game and earned 11 points in total at the tournament. He credited the team’s defense for the win.
“I have to give it off to a goalie. The goalie played phenomenally … We have a very good shot, and we definitely can play good defense,” Lill said.
Thomas East is a defender on the team and is also acting as the team’s coach. He has been with the Blade Runners since the team’s formation in 2014, when they received grants from the Carrie Tingley Foundation to buy equipment and get the team started.
“This year, the team really came together. We got some guys that are really maturing … and so it all came together this year,” East said.
Being the only sled hockey team in New Mexico, they have to travel to participate in tournaments. East is now also the CEO of the nonprofit that the team started to be able to fund their travel.
Not having a formal coach has provided challenges, but Tabish-Moran said it ultimately forced the team to come together and work on their coordination and communication.
“Once we figured out our synchronicity issue, we learned how to communicate,” Tabish-Moran said. “It's interesting, we go back and forth between having a coach and not having a coach. We're loyal to our coach, but he's got other commitments right now. And so we have to do a lot of analysis, endless analysis, for ourselves and a lot of self coaching, where we have to sit together, talk as a community.”
Communication is also important for athletes on the team who work in tandem with a pusher to move around the ice. Willam Schnurnberger, who works with a pusher, said that working closely together has allowed him to form a close bond with his pushers.
“It’s fun, but you have to get used to what the other person is doing and coordinate what you're trying to do so everything matches up,” Schnurnberger said.
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Advocacy for the disabled community in New Mexico and supporting teammates is another core tenant for the group. Tabish-Moran said being on the team has been liberating, as discrimination toward disabled individuals is still prevalent.
“I want the team to be a pillar for this Albuquerque community, where disabled people can celebrate their disabilities and also help lead to be champions and celebrate themselves,” Tabish-Moran said.
The learning curve to the sport can be challenging, Tabish-Moran said. The sled consists of two blades at the back and a slider at the front. As you progress, the blades at the back of the sled can become narrower which can allow for more quick movements and a tighter turn radius.
East also said the team is open to all who can not play stand-up hockey.
“It's not limited to disabled people. It's basically anyone who can't play stand-up hockey. So if you have a bad knee or whatever, you can play, and we can have up to two able-bodied players on the team as well. So it's open to anybody,” East said.
Currently, there is a Pacific Sled Hockey League, and East said they hope for the creation of a Rocky Mountain league that would be open to those in Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, as more teams form in those states. East said it would allow them to participate in more competitions closer to home.
“I feel my favorite memory is to see all of our team and how we played this weekend and how we just clicked,” Lill said.
Fans can learn more about the New Mexico Blade Runners on their website www.outposticearena.com/hockey/sled-hockey/.
Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite