NEW HOPE, Minn. -- We spent one hour with Susie Miller on a Sunday afternoon. One hour. It took us about five minutes to figure out how one woman could take the dream of one special needs hockey player and turn into a five team, 83-person league in the metro area.
"There are few people like Susie Miller," Lanette Lorsung said. Lorsung's daughter Rebekah is a special needs player who was looking for a league back in 2005. Miller looked around for her but discovered the 'state of hockey' didn't have an ice hockey association for individuals facing the challenges that come with autism, down syndrome, or epilepsy.
"It's the 'state of hockey.' Every person who wants to play hockey should be able to play hockey, so I wanted to make that happen," Miller said shortly before a game at New Hope Ice Arena.
"We are so thrilled that Susie put this together. We are beyond thrilled. Rebekah can't wait for every Sunday," Lorsung explained.
Miller found 27 athletes back in 2006, but now the league is looking at expanding to other cities in the state. "Hockey was not a passion, people with disabilities was a passion," Miller said. Sometimes that passion can drive the woman to tears. "They're happy tears. These kids are amazing. They work so hard."
Some success comes with the ability to stand on skates. Others make memories by scoring their first goal. One athlete says it was a smell that told her she was carrying on her family's strong hockey tradition. "She was riding in the back seat and she let out a big 'YES!' Her mom said, 'what?' She said, 'I smell like Andy!' She smelled like a hockey player and that meant she was a hockey player and that's what this is about," Miller recalled.
No one is turned away, and everyone touches the puck. The MN Special Hockey Association started with one woman's mission. Susie Miller is not a parent of a special needs child, but she recognized a need for something special.
"It makes them feel like they are a part of something," Lorsung concluded.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)