SCHENECTADY -- It's been rough sledding for the Union men's and women's hockey teams this season.
Both have been playing better lately, but face a difficult challenge to overcome poor starts.
The term "rough sledding" will take on new meaning for the Dutchmen and Dutchwomen on Tuesday night, when they face off against the Capital District Sled Warriors. Instead of blazing around in customary fashion on a pair of skates, the Union players will strap into the adaptive sleds used by the Sled Warriors, a team with lower- extremity disabilities that is one of many programs offered by STRIDE Adaptive Sports.
The event, a scrimmage from 5:45-7 p.m. at Messa Rink, will serve as an opportunity to raise money for STRIDE and awareness for its cause, which is to offer "adaptive sport and recreation lessons each year to individuals with disabilities, focusing on youth and combat-injured veterans."
It will also serve as a fun and eye-opening diversion from the rigors of the college hockey season.
"I anticipate that we are going to get our butts kicked," said Cheyenne Harris, a senior defenseman on the Union women's team. "That is what I think is going to happen.
"But I think it'll be a good experience for us, understanding adaptive sports and actually how hard it is. I think it'll be kind of a wake-up call for us able-bodied athletes and we'll also gain understanding and respect for the things they do."
Harris and senior Anthony Rinaldi from the Union men's team interned with STRIDE last winter and organized a spring fling dance to give the organization a presence on campus.
One of the fastest skaters on the Union roster, Rinaldi said he's looking forward to getting down to ice level in the sled.
In adaptive sled hockey, the players use two short sticks to push themselves along and also to handle the puck.
"That should be interesting," he said. "Oh, I expect it to be difficult. We had Tyler, a kid who came on the ice with us a couple months ago. We saw him do it for the first time after his injury, and he was talking about how difficult it was.
"The smiles that they have make it all that much better. It should be interesting."
In conjunction with USA Hockey, the NHL has held a round-robin tournament called the Sled Classic since 2010.
As an assistant coach with the Team USA U18 team, Union women's coach Josh Sciba has had some exposure to sled hockey, and knows what his players will be up against.
"We did it in Colorado Springs. I've been lucky enough to work with USA Hockey for a little while now, and we actually had some time to do that with them, and I'm looking forward to these guys being able to be part of it," he said. "It's challenging. It definitely puts life in perspective for you, but I also think it's pretty cool. I don't know if you guys have watched. It's a fantastic sport, and I think the grace they show in the game and their ability to make different plays and be creative in the game that they have is pretty cool."
Donations will be accepted at the Tuesday scrimmage to help the Sled Warriors cover travel costs and game accommodations.
"We take it [being fully able-bodied] for granted all the time, and also being the one-percenters being able to play Division I hockey, we take that for granted as well. So this will be a great opportunity for my team and the men's team to take a step back and be grateful for the opportunities we have," Harris said.
"I know they're competitive, from what I've heard," Rinaldi said. "They don't like to lose, so I'm sure they'll bring that competitive aspect into the game. It should be fun."