Ontario Hockey Federation responds to Condors controversy

Tysen Lefebvre and Lukas Hooper have suited up for the Capital City Condors for years, only now has their participation in special needs hockey become a problem.

Lefebvre, who lives with Pfeiffer Syndrome Type 2, has used the Kaye Trainer to stand and play hockey with help from mentors and coaches. Lefebvre expressed disappointment in the recent decision to ban players, like him, from tournaments.

"Everybody should be able to play no matter what they look like or their physical disability." said Lefebvre, who was told the cancellation of the team's annual trip to a tournament in Kitchener was due to scheduling issues.

Lefebvre and his teammate, who is non-verbal, have expressed a desire to play in tournaments including upcoming competition south of the border.

The head of hockey in Ontario said the controversy has been brewing for nearly two years;  and centres around how different groups believe special needs hockey should be run.

"We've been trying to work for a year and a half to try to bring these groups back to a table and get them connected. There's some games that have been cancelled because some groups have decided to go contrary to our programming...and the insurance isn't the same across the board." said McKee, Ontario Hockey Federation's executive director 

The Condors aren't the only club being turned away for their firm stance on inclusivity.

"We're in a situation where teams we've played for 12 years now are now cancelling games against us." said Cam Linwood with the Cambridge Ice Hounds special needs hockey team.

Linwood, whose team does not have players who used assistive devices, believed speaking out against excluding players from competition was the right thing to do. 

"It's about taking away those barriers and adapting the game to fit the player and not the player to fit the game." according to Linwood.

The Ontario Hockey Federation confirmed it sent a letter to the organizer of next week's Kitchener Friendship tournament informing teams, like Capital City Condors, who were unsanctioned by Hockey Canada could not play.

The Capital City Condors said their decision to not play under Canadian National Special Hockey (CNSH) and Hockey Canada was in direct response to a recent ruling from CNSH officials. The disagreement, according to the Condors, is over whether players with intellectual disabilities should play alongside those with physical disabilities; including those using assistive devices like Lefebvre and Hooper. Citing safety concerns and speed-of-play, representative with CNSH told the Condors certain players could not participate in certain competitions.

The OHF said both sides need to discover a solution for the good of the game and all involved.

"It's not about the assisted devices...the 2 organizations had a rift...because nobody really wants to say what the issue is. They have to come together and put the past behind them and determine what does special hockey international look like." said McKee.

The Innisfil Snowdogs special needs hockey team out of southern Ontario said they've played many games against teams with adaptive equipment, including the Condors.

"It's not everyone's opinion but they're worried about the upright players colliding or getting hurt with things like wheelchairs and Kaye Trainers." said Snowdogs president Ed Hunter.

"Something is clearly broken when you've got teams who have played each other for as long as we have with all of these teams, suddenly cancelling games because of policies and politics. That doesn't sit right." said Linwood.

Wanting to get back on the ice, Lefebvre and Hooper are inviting OHF and Hockey Canada Officials to see them in action.

"I think they'd be very impressed." said Lefebvre.