A special thank you to Jack Reinhard!
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Special Hockey of the Lehigh Valley serves children and young adults with cognitive challenges. 69 News caught up with the Lehigh Valley Polar Bears team just ahead of the 11th Winter Classic — an event that raises money for the team and special hockey nationwide.
The team chants were loud as the Lehigh Valley Polar Bears hit the ice, with their sticks and skates at Bethlehem's Steel Ice Center.
"I like it," said Declan Epler, a player with the Lehigh Valley Polar Bears.
"I like seeing the other teammates, and like asking, 'How was your week?' or like stuff like that," Epler said.
"With the Polar Bears, I make a lot of new friends," said Elaina Weighknecht, one of the players.
"I just like all the practices we're having, and I always like playing all our games, too," said teammate Kiernan McMonagle.
69 News reporter Jack Reinhard hit the ice with the Polar Bears at the same rink where he used to play with the Phillipsburg Ice Hockey Club, from third grade to the end of high school.
From playing and attending many games, to meeting hundreds of former and current NHL players, hockey has always been a large part of Reinhard's life, he says.
As Reinhard laced up his skates with the Polar Bears, he said it brought him joy to see how much the sport continues to grow in the Lehigh Valley.
The Polar Bear's fundraising event, Lehigh Valley Winter Classic, brings the whole hockey community together at the Bethlehem Municipal Ice Rink, and featuring games, raffles, former NHL players and so much more.
"It's always a day that's marked on the calendar," said Joe Guellnitz, president, Special Hockey Lehigh Valley.
Guellnitz says last year's event raised around $60,000 in a day, even bringing in a donation from NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin.
"That fundraising alone is enough to support the team the whole season," Guellnitz said.
The funds also help other teams nationwide.
"So we've been able to give starter grants for new programs that, you know, want to grow to the size of the Polar Bears, but are just getting started," Guellnitz said.
The Polar Bears started with five players and now have 42.
"We've been growing all along, and for us, it's just been continuing to be who we need to be for the people in our community who could use the support and we appreciate the support of everybody in the community," Guellnitz explained.
The 11th annual Lehigh Valley Winter Classic will take place Feb. 3 at the Bethlehem Municipal Ice Rink.