US Team Wins PowerHockey Cup

Minnesota Saints overcome obstacles to win their first PowerHockey Cup; most team members have a form of MD

Toronto, Canada, was host to the 2010 PowerHockey Cup tournament, August 6-9.
Article Highlights:
  • PowerHockey – a sport played on basketball courts with lightweight sticks and balls – is open to all power wheelchair users. Tournaments are held every two years.
  • The Minnesota Saints played 10 years before winning their first cup. Seven of the 10 players on the current team have a neuromuscular disease and are registered with MDA.
  • Saints forward Chad Wilson, who has Becker muscular dystrophy, won the Most Valuable Player award.
by Bill Norman on August 23, 2010 - 12:35pm

It didn’t look good for the Minnesota Saints.

Playing against the tough Michigan Mustangs for the top prize in power wheelchair hockey, the Saints went up 4-2, only to see the score tied 4-4 with just five minutes to go.

That’s when forward Chad Wilson, 21, of Chanhassen, Minn., went into overdrive. Wilson, who has Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD), took less than two minutes to score two more goals for the Saints.

Forward Chad Wilson of the Minnesota Saints was named Most Valuable Player of the PowerHockeyCup 2010 tournament.

The Saints won the game, and with it the PowerHockey Cup 2010 at a tournament in Toronto, Canada, on August 6-9. Even though Wilson had to compete in a borrowed chair when his own broke down, he led both the team and tournament in scoring and won the award for most valuable player.

“Chad was key to the Saints’ success, making multiple long and short shots,” said Jen Onsum, 29, a former Saints player who now serves as the team’s press secretary. Onsum, who has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), also served as MDA’s Minnesota Goodwill Ambassador in 1993.

Win especially meaningful

The victory was especially meaningful for the Saints because it took place in Canada, home of the Calgary Selects, who won the two previous PowerHockey Cups.

The Saints battled it out with seven other teams, four from Canada and three from the United States. The tournament takes place every other year, under the auspices of the North American PowerHockey Association.

PowerHockey employs most of the rules of traditional hockey – such as offsides and penalty calls – but is played on a basketball court using lightweight plastic sticks and balls. Players who have trouble using their arms can tape their sticks to their chairs, but no other chair modifications are allowed.

There are no age limits, although most players are teenagers or older. Men and women can compete equally, since the only strength needed is the ability to drive fast and turn on a dime.

Onsum said that goalie Sarah Heinsch, 29, from New Hope, Minn, was another key to the Saints' victory. Heinsch was solid throughout, Onsum said, making many great saves and stops. Heinsch, who also has SMA, offered a more modest assessment of her role. Given the skill of the Saints’ competitors, she allowed that she “did make a few good saves.”

Everyone in the game

Minnesota Saints captain Dan Hugley, right, accepted the PowerHockey Cup 2010 championship trophy on behalf of the team from Ontario Lt. Gov. David Onley.  Coach Josh Holler, center, was an MDA summer camp volunteer who met several of his future team members there.

“We’ve been playing for 10 years, and it was great to see our hard training pay off,” said Saints captain Dan Hugley, 29, from St. Paul. “Once we were in the tournament, we started utilizing all the players, rather than relying only on the top players, and that’s when it all came together.”

Hugley and his brother Joe, 27, who also plays on the team, have BMD. Seven of the 10 players on the Minnesota Saints have neuromuscular disease and are registered with MDA.

Goodbye to a friend and teammate

Despite the exhilaration of their win, Saints players were saddened to hear of the death of their friend and former teammate Aubrey Olsen on August 7.

Onsum said that Wilson and Kristina Kent, 24, a player with an unspecified form of muscular dystrophy from Willmar, Minn., had been close to Olsen and the news of her death hit them pretty hard. “They passed on the post-championship celebrations so they could start the drive home to attend her funeral,” Onsum said.

Aubrey Olson, an enthusiastic power hockey player, shared the title of MDA National Goodwill Ambassador with her brother Nick in 1998 and 1999. Both had Friedreich’s ataxia. She died at age 23, two months after Nick passed away at age 21.

More on PowerHockey

To read more about power chair hockey, visit the U.S. Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association site and see Are Power Chair Sports Really Exercise? in the April-June 2009 issue of Quest.


[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated Kristina Kent had been diagnosed with congenital muscular dystrophy. In fact, Ms. Kent's form of muscular dystrophy has not been identified. - updated 10/13/10 @ 2:38 p.m.]

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