By @MichaelCaples –
PLYMOUTH – John Wroblewski said he actually found it refreshing.
For some, it may have felt like a youth hockey game being played out at USA Hockey Arena – no music, no public-address announcer, no lights, no intermission entertainment, etc.
Unique, to say the least, for a USHL hockey game in Plymouth – but it was all for a wonderful cause.
Sunday afternoon’s game between Team USA (the NTDP Under-18 Team) and the Dubuque Fighting Saints was the first ‘Sensory Friendly Day’ event in Plymouth, as USA Hockey set out to create a welcoming environment for fans on the autism spectrum.
No flashy intro show, no goal lights or goal horns…even the anthem was performed without the use of microphones or music, but with the help of the Team USA players and staff.
“It was kind of refreshing in a way, with the lack of music and hoopla, just getting right after it,” said Wroblewski, head coach of the Under-18 Team. “You can hear all the nuances in between the whistles and it forces your team into creating an environment on the bench, which is what you want anyways – a lot of positivity, and a lot of things get amplified on the bench when there’s no music in the arena. It’s either positive or negative, no in between, and it was neat to see the guys stay positive on the bench and be good teammates to each other and create their own energy.”
That was his hockey take on the day, but more importantly, Wroblewski loved the reasoning behind the #SensoryFriendlyDay atmosphere.
“I thought our support staff did an unbelievable job prepping our guys as the week went on. We started with some events a little bit earlier, just to get them integrated and appreciative of what today meant, so kudos to the staff on that one. I thought it was a tremendous opportunity and I hope it’s something that we continue to do for the cause.”
The unique atmosphere certainly didn’t hinder the players’ performance – Team USA posted an 8-3 win over the Saints. The victory improved the U18 Team’s record to 10-2-1-0-0 on the season with their combined junior/college schedule, and a perfect 4-0 in USHL league play.
“It was good,” said captain Jack Hughes, responsible for one of the eight goals in the contest. “It was for a really good cause, so, it was a little different of course, but it was a good cause overall.
“I guess you’re kind of in the zone when you’re playing, you’re not really thinking about that kind of [atmosphere] stuff, but it was good, we knew it was for a good cause so we were all for it.”
Sean Farrell scored twice, while Matthew Boldy, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield, Patrick Moynihan and Case McCarthy also found the back of the net for Team USA. Cameron Rowe made 26 saves to pick up the win between the pipes.
The U18 Team players built DIY sensory toys for fans attending the game a few weeks before; those toys, along with other items, were available in ‘quiet rooms’ set up in multiple areas at USA Hockey Arena. The Autism Alliance of Michigan was on hand for the game, as were other causes and support systems for families.
The game was extra meaningful for defenseman Alex Vlasic, who has a family member on the spectrum.
“I think it was definitely really cool,” the Boston University commit said. “It was a lot different in terms of the atmosphere and stuff, but it was for a good cause obviously. Having a brother who has autism – he’s on the spectrum – it was definitely very meaningful to me, and I think it was to a lot of people who came out to the game. I just respect everything that went down today.
“It was a difficult in warm-ups, with no music going on, but I think everything else was just fine, and what got us going was the cause that the game was for today.”