On Sunday, February 19, the Lac St. Louis (LSL) Dragons and Kahnawake Minor Hockey (KMH) were able to make a dream come true for countless young athletes with special needs.
Making the event even more special is that they had a helping hand in net thanks to 15-year-old Kahnawa’kehró:non goaltender Kanerahtohare Montour.
The LSL Dragons are an adapted hockey team – suited specifically to facilitate the participation and growth of athletes with physical and developmental disabilities – founded by James Lapierre, the director of sports programs and community development at Special Olympics Quebec (SOQ).
The Dragons practice routinely much like any other hockey team, but they usually only get to play a couple of exhibition games every year. These games are pivotal to allowing the players to really apply their skills and experience the thrills of an in-game hockey environment, complete with referees, scorekeepers, and, of course, fans.
As a result, when KMH’s director of Bantam and Midget divisions Lou Ann Stacey heard that the Dragons were scrambling to find a venue on Sunday for their first of four exhibitions, she jumped at the chance to have them come play a friendly match against KMH players at the Kahnawake Sports Complex.
“They wanted a space to play, some scorekeepers, some referees, and so of course I said absolutely… Many members of our special-needs community have wanted more sports opportunities, and I really want to help open the door for that,” said Stacey.
For this one-off exhibition, the Kahnawake Mohawks compiled a team of youth of all ages, from as young as 10 to as old as 17, and four players from Kahnawake joined the Dragons for the day to make the numbers even.
“It was an eye-opening and incredible experience for us and for our players,” said Stacey.
Among the many ascending young talents with the Dragons is Montour, a Kahnawa’kehró:non goaltender on the autism spectrum.
When Montour first expressed interest in pursuing organized hockey a year ago, his parents were disheartened at the possibility that he would not get the chance.
“We knew that many of these teams have children who have grown up playing hockey, and we didn’t know if he missed his chance, but when we learned that Lac St. Louis had an adapted team, we reached out,” said Montour’s mother Kathy Jacobs.
This pairing proved to be a perfect match for all involved – the Dragons had never before had a full-time goalkeeper, and Montour met the challenge, developing his skills rapidly in a short time and even attending goalkeeper development training sessions with other KMH goalies.
“On Wednesday nights he goes to [KMH] goalie clinics and he loves it…he doesn’t care where he is playing; he just wants to play,” said Jacobs.
By Sunday, both Jacobs and Stacey knew that Montour was ready for the moment.
“We told our players to give them opportunities in the course of the game, but don’t let them win, and don’t take it easy on [Montour] because he wants your best shot…and he was incredible,” said Stacey.
“He did really well, and we were so proud of him and so were the coaches, and it was just so fun to watch,” said Jacobs.
Not only was the success of the recent exhibition game between the Dragons and the Mohawks an important event for Montour and the many dedicated athletes on the Dragons team, but also for the development of adapted sports programs in the region as well, a fact Stacey is well aware of.
“We’ve spent a lot of time this year working with girls’ hockey and making it accessible. This was our first crack at supporting an adapted team and it went well, so I’m excited for the work we are doing and will continue to do,” said Stacey.