Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.

Members of the state’s only sled hockey team visited with Fairbanksans Saturday, sharing information about their sport and why they love it.

The Alaska Avalanche Sled Hockey team is the only sled hockey team in the state of Alaska and is a program of Challenge Alaska’s Paralympic Sport Club. Participants are disabled, but their attitudes are certainly not. It’s hard to imagine a group more positive than this one.

Co-captain Michael Hanson lost use of his legs after his small plane crashed into a mountainside. Goalie Ski Szahowksi, the only member from Fairbanks, lost half his pelvis and a leg to cancer. Gerry Milbrett is in a wheelchair after being crushed by 1,000-pound septic tank. Nathan Carey broke his back when a forklift dropped a crate on him in 2008.

They are part of the 11-member Alaska Avalanche Sled Hockey team, which practices in Palmer every Thursday night.

“Alaska is a hard place to be in a wheelchair,” Carey said. “It restricts you daily. The easiest solution is to move where there is no snow.”

He stays because his family is here, which makes up for the challenge of getting around despite ice and snow. And sled hockey provides an opportunity to get exercise after a long day at work. The team is always looking for new members.

To play the game, they sit on sleds very close to the ice. It’s hard to play with hockey players with legs, because of the danger of hurting them, they said.

“We’re right at their knees,” Hanson point out. “We have to always be very careful.”

All of these players were active before losing use of their legs. This sport allows them to continue that active lifestyle.

The team members spent the afternoon at Chevrolet Buick GMC of Fairbanks, a primary sponsor.

“It’s a good program,” said Walt Rodgers, sales manager at the dealership. “We support good programs.”

For more information on the program, email

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.