Minnesota is called the “State of Hockey” and Richfield's Larry Hendrickson, founder of the Hendrickson Foundation wants everyone to get a chance to shine on the ice.
“Nobody should be denied a chance to play hockey in Minnesota,” Hendrickson said. “I have met some marvelous people who have had setbacks in their lives and instead of dwelling on what they don’t have, they dwell on what they do have and they are outstanding people.”
The Hendrickson Foundation is dedicated to fostering and supporting sled hockey for all individuals with physical or cognitive challenges. Sled hockey has regular hockey rules and players sit in a sled with blades on the bottom while using two short hockey sticks to skate down the ice, stick handle and shoot. The players include recent war vets with traumatic amputations, children and teens with physical challenges that preclude participation in most sport activities and those with cognitive challenges.
Hendrickson, a former Richfield coach, helped lead the Spartans to the Minnesota State Tournament championship game in 1976. He’s also part of a big hockey family. His son , the 1991 Minnesota Mr. Hockey award winner and star Spartans player, . His other son Danny Hendrickson, is a former Minnesota Gopher standout. Larry Hendrickson believes the kids love to be one of the ice, regardless of their skill level.
We have some kids who are really good athletes,” he said. “They don’t have lower legs, but they are great athletes and they are tough. We also have some kids who need some assistance from their parents and they have a push apparatus, but they have a great time, too. They get out and have fun.”
Hendrickson admits that he gains plenty from providing opportunities to these athletes.
“It has been a joy to work with [all the players],” he said. “That is our goal with youth. If they get on these teams and start playing better and getting a little confidence, they seem to do a lot better in school. They can go on to be great leaders.”
One of the players is 13-year-old Nick Nelson, who is always smiling when he’s on the ice. Nelson was born with a rare popliteal pterygium syndrome—which effects the formation of various parts of the body—and underwent 40 surgeries before deciding to have his legs amputated. His story was featured on KARE-11 and he even appeared on the “Today Show” three times.
Nick’s mother, Greta Nelson, believes that sled hockey has made a major impact on her son’s life.
“It is huge,” she said. “This is his fifth season and up to that time in his life, he was always the kid who wanted to get involved. He was active. He was excited to play sports, but ever since birth, he was getting ready for surgery or recovering from surgery, so he could never be involved.”
“He was introduced to sled hockey and that was the one thing that made him feel like all the other kids.” Greta Nelson continued. “It made him fast and free and he wasn’t slowed down by his legs that didn’t work. I’ll never forget the smile on his face when he came in from the ice. It is something that he can do and he does really well.”
Nick’s sister, Naomi, who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was three, also plays sled hockey.
The Hendrickson Foundation, which supports USA Hockey and the Minnesota Hockey Division and their goals, hopes to create more awareness for their programs. They hope to increase the number of kids in the program and provide equipment and coaching teams, according to Hendrickson. He’s hoping that once more teams are established, more opportunities for traveling play will be presented. In addition, he’s hoping more interest will help drive costs down.
“Money is not going to be a factor for a family not to be able to participate,” he said.