FT. WAYNE, Ind.--When Bob Chase was growing up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, he played hockey every day, but he never tried sled hockey.
"This gives people who have never had a chance to experience hockey an opportunity to do so in their own realm," Chase said, looking at a sled hockey demonstration Monday night at McMillen Park Ice Arena.
"They get a chance to let loose, have fun and see how the other half lives, and that's so important. Everybody gets a chance to do their thing, and I like that."
The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, Turnstone Center for Disabled Children and Adults, and Fort Wayne Youth Hockey Association will sponsor the state's first sled hockey tournament at McMillen, and they have decided to name it after Chase, the longtime WOWO broadcaster who is in his 56th year calling Komets games. The Bob Chase Frostbite Sled Hockey Tournament will be Feb. 14 and 15.
"What best represents hockey in this community?" said Chuck Reddinger, supervisor of programming at McMillen and the tournament's director. "In this town you don't have to think too hard to come up with the name of Bob Chase. Bob is a spokesperson for hockey at all levels and has been for many years."
Chase, who turns 82 on Jan. 22, has received many honors over his career, but he's never had a tournament named for him.
"What it really means is, people who are afraid of growing old miss most of their life because good things happen the older you get," Chase said. "Look what's happened to me as I got older, including this situation, being honored with my name attached to the first ever in Indiana sled hockey tournament.
"You have to enjoy life every day, and this makes life more enjoyable to me. I really appreciate what they have done, and I hope I can uphold the tradition of good things they have done here at McMillen Park."
Organizers hope to attract between four and eight teams to the tournament.
Sled hockey uses almost all the rules of regular hockey games, with checking, passing and line changes. It was invented in Stockholm, Sweden, in the early 1960s and is a popular sport in the Paralympic Games. Players ride sleds, using pegs on the butt ends of their two sticks to pull themselves along, on a full sheet of ice. The best shooters can blast the puck nearly 30 mph.
Randy Kwapis approached McMillen Ice Arena Manager Dennis Smith about a year ago about the possibility of hosting an exhibition. Kwapis' son Matt, now a senior at Carroll High School, was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair since age 7. He played previously in Detroit, where the family lived before moving to Fort Wayne.
Randy Kwapis then built and donated most of the sleds. Now there are regular sled hockey sessions at McMillen, and organizers such as Kevin Hughes are trying to build enough of a following to field youth and adult teams to compete around the Midwest.