When Salt Lake native Steve Konowalchuk first laced up his skates more than 30 years ago, he had no idea how big of an impact that simple act would have on himself or a special group of hockey players.
Konowalchuk went on to have a 13-year career in the National Hockey League. The left winger played all but 97 of his 790 career games with the Washington Capitals and was the team captain from 2001-03. He totaled 171 career goals and 225 assists.
"I think I was a guy that was willing to do whatever it took to get the job done," said Konowalchuk of why he found success at the highest level of hockey. "I would sacrifice my body and put myself in front of the net taking cross checks and getting beat up to help the team."
Konowalchuk has put that same approach into helping a new team. He and Murray Mayor Daniel Snarr were recently named honorary captains of a special needs hockey team.
"Anytime you can get out and help people in the community it is a positive," said Snarr. "We all have special needs, but these kids just have some different ones than most of us."
The special needs of these hockey hopefuls consist of developmental disabilities. Physically, most can skate and go out on the ice to compete, but the program is more than that.
"It is almost more of a social thing for them, to be a part of a team is important," said Mary Lederman.
Lederman's son Donnie was part of a special needs team in Chicago sponsored by the Blackhawks. After moving to Utah, they found there wasn't something similar offered here. They contacted Mike Holmes, and with the help of many others, they helped organize the new group.
"We have been growing fast thanks to people's generosity like Steve," said Holmes. "We have 42 participants on two teams now, and we think there will be more teams growing in the western United States. We have heard they are organizing teams in Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles."
After Holmes got in touch with Konowalchuk, it was a no-brainer for the long-time player and fan to lend his name to a good cause."I think hockey is the most complete game around," he said. "It takes speed, hand-eye coordination, heart, strength, all those things combined to make it the best. ... If I can help people out like this for a sport I love, I am more than willing to do it. These kids are great, and I am sure that by getting out and playing they are gaining a ton."