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Hockey

Autism Won’t Stop Irish Goaltender

The NHL’s greatest folk heroes are born from a desire to overcome adversity.

Whether it’s Mark Giordano’s rise from an undrafted defenseman to a Norris Trophy winner, goaltender Josh Harding’s unbelievable run with the Minnesota Wild while battling MS, or Jaromir Jagr’s interminable quest to be an immortal icon of hockey, a willingness to beat the odds is what defines generations of potential tentpoles of the sport.

Add 15-year-old Belfast native Blaze Shields-Pettitt to the list.

Pit against a litany of physical and mental illnesses, which include a weakened back due to Schorml’s Nodes, kidney conditions diagnosed in utero, bilateral hydronephrosis that challenges his hydration during games, as well as autism and ADHD, a glance at Blaze’s medical history doesn’t suggest the pedigree of an A-list goalie prospect.

Despite this, the young netminder has quickly propelled himself through the ranks of the native Irish hockey scene, serving as the backbone for the U16 Junior Belfast Giants and being recruited to backstop Team Ireland’s Inline hockey squad in 2020 (a tournament that was eventually canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

“On the ice he can be Blaze, just Blaze,” explain Shield-Pettitt’s parents on his Facebook page. “Not the sick child, not the medical appointments and pain, just Blaze the goalie, and that means the world.”

The sense of normalcy has been a welcome addition to Blaze’s life. He maintains consistent physical therapy and takes special care to ensure he can stay hydrated during games, but in a community where he’s been accepted as just another member of the team, Blaze has found a sense of belonging and a chance to excel.

Even his mind can be at peace on the ice; while ADHD and autism present issues with attentiveness and processing, they can also be a boon to one’s concentration, allowing those with it to hyperfocus on things that make them feel happy or mentally invested, and Blaze has found that investment in hockey.

The 15-year-old first came across the sport after being brought to a Belfast Giants game by the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and was instantly enthralled by the game, especially goaltending position, filled then by long-time Giant Stephen Murphy (Murphy retired in July 2021 after 11 years with Belfast and a single season with the Manchester Storm).

Blaze was mesmerized by the athleticism and artistry of Murphy

“After the game, I told my parents that I wanted to learn to play as a goalie,” he said.

It wasn’t until January 2017 that Blaze would first try on skates. A late start to be sure, but in four short years he’s already bloomed into a bright prospect in a place that doesn’t see many.

“Some of the coaches Blaze has worked with … say Blaze does have the potential to become a professional,” his parents said. “He has the right mindset, the dedication to the position, but is also willing to listen to constructive criticism.”

If Blaze were to make it to the NHL, he would become just the sixth Irish-born player to do so, and the first goaltender. But the road to the show isn’t a simple one for someone in the growing goaltender’s situation.

While it’s normal for international prospects to make their way to the Canadian Hockey League for both development and scout attention — and Blaze certainly dreams of doing so — his individual circumstances mean his development is more likely to continue in his native Ireland. 

“If he moved to Canada his medical insurance payments would be substantial,” caution his parents. “He has already been refused from private healthcare in the UK due to his kidneys being deemed a pre-existing condition.”

If Blaze remains in Europe, though, it would hardly deter his development. Between Inline and ice hockey the 15-year-old netminder has found his fair share of competition and consistently stood to face it.

He recently backstopped the U16 Giants to third-place in tournament play in Scotland, and aims to be named to Team Ireland’s Inline Hockey team once again. 

“To get an Ireland jersey with my name and number on it would mean so much to me,” he said, adding that he aims to compete for a spot on Great Britain’s U18 Ice Hockey team as well.

Blaze undeniably has the skill and support to continue his `ascent through the hockey world, competing internationally and continually finding greater responsibility before he’s even learned to drive a car, but that’s not always enough.

Instead, what seems to help set Blaze apart from the crowd are his positive character, hard-nosed determination, and ability to persevere in the face of his own adversity.

It’s those skills, and the heart of a player, that will ultimately power him through the uphill climb of his career, and before long, maybe even into the annals of NHL history.

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Hockey

Crow’s Sports

For over 35 years, hockey enthusiasts in Oshawa, Ont. have seen many local hockey shops open and close its doors. Only one store has remained throughout the many years.

Crow’s Sports is owned by Oshawa resident, Dave Konarowski. He started the business with a single skate sharpening machine in his own home. 

Dave brought up his kids to love the sport of hockey. His son, Jared Konarowski, runs the store now. Dave has passed down his skills for his son to carry the legacy. 

Dave had a backyard homemade ice sheet his family used to play hockey and skate on. But skates used on that type of ice needs to be sharpened before going on a local rink. 

Issues with Dave’s regular skate sharpening technician forced him to buy his own machine. This initiated the 35-plus years of fine experience and detail that has gone into making customers satisfied and returning for more. 

“Your feet are the beginning of balance and posture. So, when your feet are positioned properly, your whole body performs better,” said Dave. 

He emphasized the radius of the blade is unmatched in the skate industry. Big box stores tend to send skates that need attention to Crow’s Sports, creating good business for the shop.

“Its the greyest area in hockey, the shape of your blade,” added Dave. 

Dave spent a lot of man hours perfecting his technique in skate sharpening. It is fair to call him an expert in this field. 

Spending time with various skaters both professional and amateur, worked in tandem with the woodworking skills gathered throughout Dave’s previous years. 

Dave does not just believe, but truly knows his skate sharpening technique is one of the best in North America, and possibly beyond the borders.  

“The only continent I am not on is Antarctica, and I probably might even be on that one,” said Dave, who has sharpened skates with his technique all over the world. 

Customers will travel 100 plus kilometers every two weeks just to come to Crow’s Sports for the services provided. Dave said customer satisfaction is an asset for customers to return. 

The skate machine was just the beginning of Crow’s Sports. 

Although skate sharpening provided by the shop is one, if not, the biggest reason for business, there is many options for goalie and player equipment for hockey. Customization is available to those willing to pay the extra dollars for anything hockey related.

There are countless amounts of goalie pads, chest protectors, skates, sticks, helmets, and accessories.

“Most of our business is done by word of mouth,” said Dave. Advertising is rare for Crow’s Sports.

A website was made for hockey enthusiasts to browse and see if there is anything that catches the eye.

Alongside new equipment and service, Crow’s Sports also has a museum-like feel throughout the store. 

Ranging from very old and unique goalie masks, sticks, heritage blocker, pads, and gloves, Crow’s Sports has it all hockey.

Jared is redecorating the store with other old hockey items Crow’s feels customers would enjoy, including some very rare items.

This old equipment adds a sentimental value not many box stores carry.

Many professionals know Crow’s Sports for the reliability and attention to detail, especially when it comes to skate fitting and the radius on the blade. 

Like any business it will come with obstacles that need to be overcome. For Crow’s Sports case, the big obstacle is the off season from spring to end of summer. As hockey is out of season, the business will see less work. But that never stopped the shop for the 35 years it has been around.

“Be prepared to work hard.” Dave said, adding that he would put in hours of work once the store closed each night. “You get what you put into it. If you think it is going to come to you easy, forget it.” 

From fairly priced equipment to services with immense attention to detail and customer satisfaction, it is easy to see why Crow’s Sports has been around for almost four decades and will remain a go-to spot for hockey services and products for many years to come.

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