A hockey season isn't complete without the playoffs, so that's where the Michigan FAR Flyers hockey team is headed to - the playoffs.
The two teams (A & B) of the FAR Flyers are competing at the Special International Hockey Tournament, which is being held April 28-30, in Marlboro, Mass. in its biggest event of the year. Some 64 teams totaling hundreds of special needs players from Canada, England and the U.S. will compete.
The Flyers 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. FAR is a loosely historic acronym for Fun, Arts and Recreation, the organization's goals to help members. The team is part of the USA Hockey's Disabled Hockey program and belongs to the American Special Hockey Association (ASHA).
About 32 players, including some females, ranging from ages 11 to 48 make up the two squads according to Flyers coach Ben Niemiec, who has mentored the group for the past decade or so.
"Not only is it our 9th anniversary going, but it's going to be the largest one we've ever had," said Niemiec of the tournament. "It's great competition. You could just feel the excitement building up to it."
The team is made up of players from Oakland and Macomb Counties as well as the Southeast Michigan area. The players have their own stories and everyday life challenges with their special needs. But they all love the game of hockey, complete with pads, helmets, sticks, skates and an occasional hard check against the boards.
Patrick McCann, 19, of Beverly Hills, is in his first year with the team. He found out about the FAR Flyers from 17-year-old Adam Egrin of Southfield, who is in his second year with the squad, and has enjoyed his experience.
"Just to be a part of this team is exciting," McCann said. "It's fun to do the playmaking and try to involve as many teammates as I can to make a play, because that is what hockey is about."
Meg Parker, 13, and her brother Matt, 18, from Clinton Township are also team members. Meg appreciates the skating and artistry skills of hockey, while Matt enjoys the camaraderie and friendships with his teammates.
"Over the years, I've seen these athletes develop," Niemiec said. "It gave them a purpose, something to look forward to and it's been really great going to these tournaments."
Indeed, the players will renew friendships with teams they've played before.
"It's a neat thing, to see the athletes go there, and meet their friends and buddies from Washington and St. Louis," Niemiec said. "I've gotten to know the coaches, too."
Games will be matched according to players' skill levels and multiple contests are assured for each squad. "We came back from last year's tournament with a 5-1 record," Niemiec said. "This year, who knows?"
For more information on the Michigan FAR Flyers, visit the web site at www.michiganfarflyers.org.