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What Is Special Hockey?

What Is Special Hockey?

Special hockey is an adaptive version of ice hockey for athletes with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities.  Special hockey provides a supportive environment for athletes of differing abilities with a focus on sportsmanship, teamwork, friendships and achieving goals on and off the ice.   This focus leads to improved physical and mental health, and provides a community of families and peers, positively impacting the quality of life for the athlete and their family.

Special hockey athletes are diverse in ability and diagnosis, with each program providing adaptive supports to meet the athletes’ varying needs.   Special Hockey teams include experienced coaches and volunteers to ensure a safe environment to play the sport.  Additionally, many programs also welcome Jr. Coaches (Mentors) who provide peer to peer encouragement and support to athletes.

Special hockey is played “upright” and is played differently than Sled (Sledge) hockey.  In special hockey, standard hockey equipment is used with adaptive modification which meets the athletes needs.  Special hockey is a non-contact and non-competitive sport, and before each game coaches establish expectations for game play, based on the athletes needs. Many programs allow for adaptive equipment and skating aides to support the athletes safe and confident participation, this can include gait trainers and wheelchairs. (This is determined by each team and varies)

The American Special Hockey Association is committed to ensuring that the sport of hockey is both accessible and welcoming for all abilities.

Thank you for being interested in learning more about the American Special Hockey Association (ASHA) and supporting the growth of the game to include all abilities.  While our “season” runs from September to April, our programs are a year-round family of friends and support to thousands of athletes participating in ice hockey with special needs.  

We have grown to support over 100 established Special Hockey Clubs throughout the United States and are supporting the growth of over a dozen new organizations.   We partner with a number of clubs in Canada in friendship. As awareness increases about special hockey, so will opportunities for more people to become involved and active helping grows access to the sport they love.   

Each day, our players and families bravely rise to meet their challenges with determination and achieve their goals.  Our athletes overcome the obstacles of developmental disabilities and physical disabilities that would have otherwise prevented them from being involved with a team.  Our youngest players first step on the ice at five, and there is no age limit to participate. We offer different levels of play, so players of all abilities can participate safely and comfortably.  Together players of all abilities create memories that will last a lifetime.  

We proudly serve a diverse group of athletes, coaches, peer mentors, families, and friends through specialized supports, training, and encouragement.   

Our goal is to build relationships between our organizations support inclusion of special hockey into local hockey communities.  We are here to provide you with resources, supports, and assistance!  You can help us by getting involved, telling our stories, and helping us welcome new players and families to our sport. We will work closely with you to ensure that any initiative or program is exactly as you wish it to be. 

Attached you will find a description of how special hockey is played. This information comes with an invitation to see special hockey in action and meet our players and coaches.   We would love to welcome you to the game we all love so much! 

If we can be of assistance to you, never hesitate to reach 

Check out the ABC’s of Special Hockey to learn more!


“This will be our son’s 4th season playing Special Hockey. We were not sure that Ice Hockey would be okay for him given that he has seizures, a brain injury, and has mild Cerebral Palsy. His physician felt that he would be fine playing. Before joining the team, he was very shy and didn't want to try new things. Since joining, he has gained so much confidence in trying new things and has become a social butterfly. Besides the social aspects of playing special hockey, he has made leaps and bounds physically with his balance and coordination. When he first started, he relied on the walker and needed a lot of assistance with staying up on his feet. He can now skate very well independently and has improved drastically with his balance. This has carried over to his everyday life as well as other activities. We will forever be grateful for what Special Hockey has done with enriching his life and ours as well.”
- Walter & Aileen Klingensmith

“Our daughter has been a hockey fanatic and has been her whole life. Special hockey has enabled her, now in her 10th season, to play her favorite sport. She has fun, gets exercise, and has made many new friends from her own teams and other teams. She looks forward to her weekly practices, games, and especially tournaments and summer camp. As she has improved, her self-confidence and interest in doing things for herself - not just related to hockey - has increased.”
- Fidelia & Douglas Friedman

Our Impact

Studies show special needs individuals and athletic identity and overwhelmingly showed a positive influence in these areas:

Individual quality of life: 84%
Overall health: 80%
Social impact: 79%
Family life quality: 70%