Meet the Retrievers, Richmond's special-needs youth hockey team

Posted at 10:46 AM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 23:38:52-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Randi-Lyn Miller-Gol is not just a huge hockey fan, she has played the sport since childhood.

As an adult, she was convinced her special needs son would benefit from learning how to play the sport, even with his challenges.

"I was going through a lot growing up and hockey was so healing," Miller-Gol said. "I introduced it to my son and he took to it right away. There was magic in his eyes."

The challenge for mom was that the nearest special-needs team was in Arlington, Virginia. She believed the Richmond area had enough interest for a team of its own. She talked about it so much, a friend finally challenged her to turn her dream into a goal.

"I was told by some people that hockey isn't all that popular around here," she said. "I said, 'no, it is. You just have to open the door.'"

Less than 24 hours after posting on Facebook to gauge interest, the American Special Hockey Association was in contact to reassure her getting started was easier than she might think.

"All you need is a logo and a name and everything is going to fall into place," she said.

And with that, the Richmond Retrievers were born.

Skating for an hour each Sunday morning at SkateNation in Short Pump, the team has grown from an idea to a collection of families and players who now have a team of their own. Players are paired one-on-one with volunteers. Many use adaptive equipment to get around the ice.

Any apprehension about injury melts away quickly, but not without a few falls first.

"I want them to fall. I want them to learn to fall correctly. I want them to feel comfortable and to give it a try," Miller-Gol said.

Hockey is not only a difficult sport to master, it's also difficult to support.

"There's not much that's more expensive than having a disability," Miller-Gol said. "That comes with a phenomenal cost and a lot of these parents want to get their kid into hockey, but how much is it going to cost?"

Miller-Gol has vowed to keep the first season free for everyone. When the National Hockey League found out about her efforts, it sent a huge care package to the Retrievers filled with all the equipment they might ever need to make the team accessible to as many kids and families as possible.

Joe Daly brings his sons Brian and Eric nearly every Sunday. He said he has noticed improvements in his children's social adaptability.

"It's helped them become better friends, have a better awareness of other people around them and it's helpful with social stuff," Daly said.

"Now that he's part of a team and part of a community, he wants to leave the house more. He wants to be here. He wants to see friends," Miller-Gol said about her son's experience.

You can find contact information for the Richmond Retrievers on their website.

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