DENVER — Thieves have made off with thousands of dollars in gear belonging to an adaptive hockey nonprofit.
Colorado Sled Hockey is more than a tight-knit community. From wounded warriors to children with disabilities, it has become a chance to belong.
"It has saved my life," said Jerry DeVaul, a veteran who lost both of his legs in a work-related accident. "Got me away from all my prescription pills that I was taking. I was taking 28 pills a day and quit doing that and tried to better my body so I could have some longevity in the sport."
The nonprofit Colorado Sled Hockey was founded in 1995, and the team joined with the Colorado Avalanche to become the first NHL-affiliated sled hockey team in 1996, according to its Facebook page.
"We're hockey for people with physical disabilities," said Bruce Grandchamp, the president of the nonprofit. "It's about life skills more than hockey."
His son, Pierce Grandchamp, who uses a wheelchair, has been a sled hockey player for nearly 20 years.
"What hockey means to me is pretty much everything," he said. "It's definitely made me into the person I am."
But in the parking lot of Denver's Big Bear Ice Arena, that chance was stolen.
"They really took advantage of everybody busy playing the sport they love," said Bruce Grandchamp.
Two weeks ago, during practice, someone took off with the Colorado Sled Hockey trailer and an estimated $25,000 worth of adaptive gear.
"To anyone else, it's useless, unless you're out using it," said DeVaul.
At first, they couldn't believe a trailer clearly marked as adaptive gear for children with disabilities could be a target, and they waited a few days in case a member showed up after using it for a clinic without checking it out.
The trailer never showed up.
"That is somebody that has no compassion for other people," said Grandchamp, who said they learned the trailer was missing when it did not show up to outfit two new players for a practice. "Without the trailer, we can't do the clinics. We can't do the community outreach. We can't reach those new players and make a difference in people's lives and get them on the ice."
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Contact Denver7 confirmed that Denver Police are investigating the case as theft, as officers report a more than 50% increase in trailer thefts so far this year compared to the same time period last year.
In the Colorado hockey community, the story has gone viral.
"Social media, it's got a ton of attention," said Pierce Grandchamp. We've been a fixture in the Colorado community, in the hockey community, for over 20 years."
He and DeVaul said the theft has sent shock waves through their group as they try to figure out how to replace the gear.
"When you're disabled, you don't have the same opportunities that the normal person has on a daily basis to go ahead and go release your anger, your frustrations, whatever you have built up in you for the week," said DeVaul. "Now, you can't go release it because they walked off with our stuff."
Denver7 Gives is launching a fund for people who want to help Colorado Sled Hockey give people back the chance to change their lives on the ice.
Anyone interested in donating can click here and search for the "Replace Stolen Hockey Gear" fund.
Denver7 features the stories of people who need help and now you can help them with a cash donation through Denver7 Gives. One hundred percent of contributions to the fund will be used to help people in our local community.