SIOUX CITY, IOWA (KCAU) – The Siouxland Lightning sled hockey team has only been around for a few years. But, it’s already making a positive impact for kids in Siouxland.

The team is one of the programs offered by Siouxland Adaptive Sports, a Sioux Center-based organization. Created five years ago, the organization originated with the intent of providing local athletes the ability to play the sports they enjoy. The group put together a sled hockey clinic, which sparked interest.

“We had a USA Paralympic Sled Hockey player come in and ran our sled hockey clinic and after three hours, we had to pull the kids off the ice because they enjoyed it so much,” Siouxland Lightning head coach Mark Horstman said.

The sled hockey program quickly gained popularity, encouraging kids from around the area to try something new.

“My mom said ‘Hey, do you want to try something new, like sled hockey?’ I said sure. So, that’s how we got introduced to it,” Siouxland Lightning forward/defenseman Dylan Anderson mentioned.

The first few practices were not easy as many of the kids were trying to adjust to the game of sled hockey, which has its differences from the traditional, stand-up game. Picking up new skills and methods along the way.

“It took a lot of learning how to communicate and work as one and not as a solo,” Siouxland Lightning goalie Dakoda Jepsen highlighted.

“Those were stressful because I had to push myself and I was like ‘man, no wonder what they go through,'” Siouxland Lightning forward Kaiden Cowan added.

But after a handful of practices with each other, the Lightning quickly improved and saw their true potential in the process.

“Starting from the beginning, we were not even that good. But then, after we progressed, we got really good,” Siouxland Lightning defenseman Carter Dekkers said.

The hardwork and dedication for the Lightning began to pay off. The Siouxland squad advanced the trajectory of the program, going from not winning many games just a couple of seasons ago to advancing to the USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival for the first time in program history. Even with the success this year, they say it was the losses that helped them get to this point.

“They just played as a team and it was a joy to see them get success. We had some rough years where we didn’t really win a lot of games. But, you grow from those losses and try to get better each year,” Horstman said.

In St. Louis, the Lightning took care of business. The team went undefeated in the national tournament, outscoring their opponents 15-2 on their way to their first-ever national title. A full circle moment for a group of athletes that have been dreaming of this moment.

“Winning a national championship, that’s really big, and winning it with your teammates and your team is really big,” Dekkers highlighted.

For the Lightning program, the celebration did not stop in St. Louis.

On April 21st, the team was honored during intermission of the Sioux City Musketeers game against the Omaha Lancers at the Tyson Events Center. The team received an abundance of applause as they made their way onto the ice, watching their championship banners hang from the top of the Tyson, cherishing the moment with teammates who became family in the process.

“My initial thoughts were like ‘that’s awesome.’ It was really fun,” Anderson said.

It was truly an unforgettable year for the Lightning program. But for the Siouxland team, sled hockey means so much more than just the wins and the losses. It’s about giving kids the opportunity and the chance to play the sport they love.

“I don’t even know how to explain it. It was great,” Siouxland Lightning parent William Cowan added.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to give something for these kids because they have trials and situations that they deal with every day. So, it’s a joy to see them have success and go through life knowing that this is out there for them,” Horstman said.

Image/Video Courtesy: Jill Duden