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The Yankee Express

Gliding and smiling for a special group of youngsters

Ron, Elise and Liz Lefrancois at the rink

By Patty Roy

Liz Lefrancois of Auburn has been a hockey mom for a couple of years. She’s used to the early hours and the cold temperatures. Her eldest daughter Claire, an eighth grader, has been a member of the Worcester White Hawks for a several years and also plays junior varsity in Auburn.  
Claire’s biggest fan girl, though, may not be her mom, but her younger sister -  nine year old Elise who is autistic and suffers from a rare genetic syndrome called Fox P1. 
The wonderful thing is, due to her mom’s enthusiasm and initiative, Elise now has her own opportunity to participate in ice hockey. She’s on the Worcester Snow Squalls, a team of special needs youngsters who meet up at the Horgan Ice Arena in North Auburn. The Snow Squalls welcome individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities to the sport of hockey from any town.
It’s more fun for the kids to get out on the ice and glide even if it’s in a chair or a sled, Liz explained, to enjoy the sensation of skimming over the smooth surface and feel the slight chill on their faces. It’s a gentle and mild approximation of the sport of hockey.
 “We don’t have kids at this point who are even ready to skate,” she said. Some of the players are able to put “grippers” on the feet so they can walk on the ice and eventually graduate to skates.
This leads a lot of people ask why not just have the kids do floor hockey? 
The main benefit of the program is that the players get peer interaction and support on a one-to one basis, Liz said. There are even some youngsters who due to sensory needs, need extra time to get used to wearing a helmet. (Practice this first at home, Liz recommends.)
Her mom says Elise has always gotten a kick out of her time at the hockey rink, where she’s free to cheer as loud as she wants.
“Nobody shushes you at a hockey game,” said Liz.
She was pleased to report that someone who had run a special hockey program out of state got in touch and the Snow Squall parents were very interested in learning how that particular program worked.
Older sister Claire has also been an inspiration because she has brought on board some “really good” junior hockey coaches from her own teams.
“They’re kids that know hockey and they can go out to do one-to-one coaching,” Liz said. The young Snow Squalls get a chance to learn something in a different way from these patient and experienced older players.
The junior coaches do things like setting up hockey drills using orange traffic cones that the kids love to be guided through.
The Snow Squalls accept children ages 5 and over and are ready to work with all kids at their own pace. Right now, most of the players are aged 6 – 12 years. 
It’s not however, your typical special hockey team, like some that are able to travel, Liz said.
“We will work with you individually,” she said, but so much is about the opportunity to make connections. 
“My daughter has made friends with this one boy and they have so much fun going fast,” she said, happily. “Even his mom is smiling at the rink. The Snow Squalls motto is: We meet kids where they’re at.” 


If anyone is interested in coming, but they’re not sure it’s for their child, Liz Lefrancois extends an open invitation join the Snow Squalls at a practice to see if it’s something their child would enjoy. 
At this time, there’s no payment required since all the team’s ice time funding is donated from Wegman’s Food Markets. Practice jerseys have been donated by CCM. 
Practices sessions are on Saturdays at 4 p.m. Feb. 24; March 9; 16 and 23 at Horgan Ice Arena  403 Oxford Street, North Auburn.  This is the first session of the winter, so don’t worry, you haven’t missed any of the fun!
Worcester Snow Squalls is a Special Hockey Team, partnered with the American Special Hockey Association. Check out the Facebook page at To join the Snow Squalls, registration is required.
The team is also supported by a motivated group of coaches and on and off-ice volunteers.