HAZEL PARK — After a pair of bruising hockey games, the advantage went to the Brampton Battalion in their confrontation with the Michigan FAR Flyers. But not by much.
Both teams skated to a 4-4 tie in the first contest, and the Battalion eked out a 5-4 victory in the second game Saturday at Viking Arena in a meeting between two special needs hockey teams.
However, despite the defeat, Flyers coach Ben Niemiec was almost as satisfied as if his squad won.
“We’d rather get beat 5-3 than to win 10-0,” Niemiec said. “All we ask for is good competition.”
And they got it from the Battalion, a squad from Canada who showed up in sharp, military tan uniforms with chevrons on the sleeves and a fierce caricature on the front.
The Flyers, with blue uniforms trimmed in yellow, are part of the FAR Conservatory, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization which provides an outlet for special needs individuals through art, theater, recreation, dance and music.
Brampton and the Flyers play annually, but this was the first time the team visited this area for a game, according to Niemiec.
“It was a typical game,” he said. “We play Brampton every year and it’s always a battle to the last minute. Unfortunately, we had a few guys who had meltdowns, but that’s part of the game. (But) the guys enjoyed themselves.”
Indeed, Clinton Bookmiller of Royal Oak was excited about the game and his effort. “It was a great game,” said Bookmiller, who has enjoyed his seven years with the squad. “Just the camaraderie, the friendships you build, I just enjoy all of it.”
So does 20-year old defenseman Mike Murdy of Bloomfield Hills, who has played five years with the FAR Flyers. “It was good, I enjoyed it (and) we played hard,” he said.
Goalkeeper Jason Maltese, 22, had a couple highlights in his game. “I tried to stop the puck ... and I lost by one,” said Maltese of the 5-4 loss in the second game.
John Gelman, a team captain, rationalized the games’ outcomes. “We played a great game, the other team’s goalie was outstanding,” said Gelman, who also enjoys his teammates. “They’re a great group of guys. We always get the best out of people and have a blast wherever we play.”
Randy Hurt, a 17-year-old player from Indianapolis, scored a pair of goals for the Flyers in the second game, and 20-year-old Justin May of Rochester Hills was as active as can be. “I’m usually the guy that plays rough and smashes them in the boards,” said May, who also fashions himself as a rapper. “This is my favorite sport to play in winter.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets also visited and played a game against another tier FAR Flyers squad. “(Assistant coach) Todd (Kelpin) and I have been doing this for a long time,” Niemiec said.
The Flyers will send a group of players to Maryland April 8-11 to represent the team at this year’s USA Disabled Hockey Festival, and the following week will take two squads to the Special Hockey International Tournament April 15-17 in Orangeville, Ont.
For more information about the FAR Flyers, contact the office (248) 646-3347.