A sled hockey player takes a break from action on the ice at the retrofitted rink in Depew, NY.

A sled hockey player takes a break from action on the ice at the retrofitted rink in Depew, N.Y.

Sometimes good comes out of bad. Just ask the sled hockey team that plays at the Depew Ice Pavilion, located right outside Buffalo, N.Y. That rink recently was retrofitted to make it accessible for the disabled hockey athletes, but it’s where the money came from to pay for the accommodations that’s unusual.

The former treasurer of the Saints Hockey Club, based at the rink, was convicted of embezzling funds from the club and the court ordered her to pay back the $90,000 she stole to support her gambling addiction. She was also sentenced to spend weekends in jail for four months followed by five years’ probation and 500 hours of community service.

The hockey club decided to spend $13,000 of the returned money to retrofit the rink because, “We wanted to show people we could change a negative into a positive,” a club official told a local newspaper. Even more importantly: “We want to introduce people to the sport” of sled hockey.

In case you’re not familiar with the game, players sit on sleds and maneuver on the ice using two shorter sticks with metal picks on one end.  The majority of the rules remain the same.

According to news reports, the rink’s bench area was made level with the ice; clear Plexiglas replaced the white boards in that area, with a lower door threshold and widened access to make it easier for players in wheelchairs and using crutches to access the bench area.

The village-owned rink is believed to be one of only four facilities in the Northeast that accommodates sled hockey. In fact, there are only about 20 sled hockey rinks in the entire country. Hockey is a hugely popular sport here because of the NHL team the Buffalo Sabres and its legendary rivalries with teams within driving distance – Toronto, Montreal, New York, Boston, etc.

So it comes as no surprise that athletes with disabilities want their ice time, too. (In hockey country, ice time is precious.) One such athlete is 22-year-old Adam Page, who was a member of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team that won the Gold Medal at the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia. He was also a force behind making changes at the rink that would give him and his team more ice time.

When Page, a member of the Buffalo Sabres Sled Hockey Team and a hometown boy, checked the synthetic ice and new accommodations at the Depew rink, he commented that “it’s awesome to have another rink that is suited for sled hockey. It’s great exposure for the sport.”

In fact, the hockey club’s commitment to sled hockey grew after Page showcased his skills and signed autographs at the rink one day after the Games.

Proving that old adage, “build it and they will come,” once work on the rink was completed, seven sled hockey teams from New York, Ontario, Pennsylvania and Ohio participated in a three-day international tournament. The competition included men and women from teens to adults. And there was the opportunity for the public to try sled hockey using the athletes’ equipment.

The remaining funds returned in the embezzlement case are also being put back into the rink and its hockey program. So youth hockey players on one rink and sled hockey athletes on another can appreciate each others’ skills. And that’s how it should be.