Ohio sled hockey player makes 2015 US national team, gets honored at CBJ game

Hockey is a sport that anyone can play, and 20-year-old Dublin native Sam Mumper, who was named to the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team this year is living proof of that.

When Mumper was only nine years old, he was disabled. While attending physical therapy, he met a player from the Ohio sled hockey program who invited him to try out the sport.

"He kind of dragged me along to a practice," Mumper said. "It took off from there. I loved it right at first – I wanted to stay on ice."

Mumper first used equipment provided by Ohio sled hockey for a few years while he built up his skills in the sport. Sled — or sledge – hockey follows the same rules as "stand up" hockey but players sit on metal "sleds" with a skate blade on the bottom. Players propel themselves along the ice using two smaller sticks that they also use to pass and shoot the puck.

Mumper said it took some time to get the mechanics down but his game progressed from there. And progress it did. Mumper has been a member of the U.S. Development team for four years and this summer he was named to the U.S. national sled hockey team. He was one of only six new members to join a team that has won two Olympic gold medals and he wants to be part of the next Olympic team.

"I thought I was pretty good hockey player until I started playing with these guys," Mumper said. "Some of the things they’re telling me I never would have thought of before – they say the team is set for next four years as long as you do what you have to do."

The U.S. team won the 2015 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Edmonton, and the next step in Mumper’s journey is to participate in the 2015 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship in Buffalo at the end of April. To send him off in style, the Blue Jackets invited him to drop the puck in Saturday’s game versus the New Jersey Devils and he and other players from Ohio sled hockey played during the first intermission.

"I was a little nervous leading up to it," Mumper said. "But once I got out there it was just another time skating. It’s easily the biggest crowd we’ve played in front of."

STORIES WORTH SHARING

Mumper, who plays defense, scored a goal on the Nationwide Arena ice.

"It was unbelievable," Mumper said. "I got a crazy pass, got my stick down and did something I’ve practiced a thousand times. I’ve never once done it in a game now I got a chance to — and I scored."

Mumper loves the sport so much he said he has to get out of his hockey mindset to do other things and that he owes so much to Ohio sled hockey, managed by Mike and Kelly Fenster. Mike coaches and Kelly serves as director of the program and general manager for the five teams in their league which roster a total of 85-90 players.

"It’s great that (Ohio sled hockey) provides an opportunity for disabled kids to play sled hockey," Mumper said. "It gets them together with one another and shows we’re not that different after all."

For Kelly, who says she considers Mumper a son, watching all he has accomplished and his recognition at Saturday’s Blue Jacket game, brought tears to her eyes. Providing the opportunity for disabled children to play a sport and experience the friendships it develops has motivated her to build the program.

"These kids struggle so much in their outside life that it gives them a sense of camaraderie to be with kids with similar experiences," Kelly said. "It makes them proud of what their bodies can do. When they get out there on the ice, they surprise themselves."

Kelly says sledge hockey is not only fun — it’s hard work. Ohio sled hockey made that lesson part of a fundraiser Sunday where they played the Columbus ice hockey club in sleds. The fundraiser raised $1,500 for the sled hockey program and had the "stand up" players having fun while realizing how difficult it is to play the sledge game.

The Ohio sled hockey program has been funded in part by grants from the Blue Jackets Foundation. The money is allocated to buy equipment, and help Ohio sled hockey players attend the annual NHL sled classic.

"I am so thrilled and honored to be a part of the foundation’s work," Kelly said. "Words can’t express the gratitude I have for giving our team and players the opportunity to experience something like this. You don’t get to do this every day — it’s a chance of a lifetime."

For more information on Ohio sled hockey visit their website.

For more information on the US National Sled Hockey team visit their website.