Mandan (N.D.) senior Michael Kaip’s passion for ice hockey dates back to third grade, when he began gluing his eyes to University of North Dakota and Minnesota Wild games on TV.
Until two years ago, Kaip had never actually played the sport he considers his “first love.”
Kaip has cerebral palsy, which prevents him from competing in standard hockey, but he found ways to actively participate. He took stats for his friend’s team for four years before graduating to team manager for the Mandan varsity hockey team, a position he relished.
“Game day is what it’s all about,” Kaip said. “I’d tell my teachers I’m pretty much useless on game day. Around lunchtime, I start getting jitters. All I want to do is play.”
In February 2011, he did. Kaip traveled 200 miles to Fargo and for the first time experienced sled hockey as part of HOPE, Inc., which provides recreational opportunities to young adults who have mobility challenges.
The sport uses a special sled Kaip describes as a bucket seat on a frame supported by two skate blades. The seat has an area for a handle attachment if a player needs to be pushed. Alternatively, players may use the icepick end of their stick to move around the ice; the stick is flipped to the blade end to pass and shoot.
After the first of two hour-long sessions, Kaip remembers taking a break for water. When he looked up, he saw a line of Mandan hockey coaches and players, who had come to support and play with him.
“It was our way of giving back to him the best we could for the things he had done for us,” said senior defenseman David Payne. “He was grinning from ear to ear. He couldn’t wait to put us in chairs and try to get at us.”
For the past three seasons, Kaip oversaw the team’s equipment, maintained shot charts and stats and recorded games. He filled the team’s water bottles before and between periods and helped ensure coaches’ supplies were in order. When he wasn’t running around prepping game pucks in ice, he’d join the team in the locker room for pre and postgame speeches and debriefings.
“He put everything he had for the team,” Payne said. “He was more than a student manager to us. He was just like another guy on the team. People showed a lot of respect for him.”
Having grown with the team, Kaip wasn’t shy about putting Mandan’s players in line. Kaip recalls a specific instance during his freshman year when players weren’t working as hard as they should have been in practice. After hearing them complain for 15 minutes and not responding to the coaches, Kaip asked if he could speak to the team.
“This is real tough for me to watch,” Kaip recalled telling the players. “You guys don’t have to skate. You get to skate. I would love to be out there skating with you, but I can’t.”
For all the times Kaip supported his team, this time they were there for him.
“When I watched Michael play, it was such a neat thing to see him being able to participate with a group of peers on a level playing field and having such a great time,” Kaip’s mother said.
Kaip was sore for four days after his first sled hockey experience, but that day in Fargo inspired him to make the same opportunities available to other athletes with disabilities in Mandan.
Along with his mother and her friends, Kaip helped found Dreams In Motion, a nonprofit dedicated to providing recreational and sporting opportunities for visually impaired and mobility challenged youth and youth adults. The organization, which models itself after HOPE, Inc., offers dance, sled hockey, soccer, curling, swimming and basketball.
Kaip was involved from the ground up. Since he was 17 at the time of the organization’s founding, he wasn’t legally permitted to be on the board, but he served on the advisory committee, generating ideas and giving feedback.
“I feel like I’m in that awkward group in the middle,” Kaip said. “I tell the group, ‘You don’t have to baby us. It’s real easy to do that with kids with disabilities. But, we’re tough. We can take it. We want to be competitive. I constantly push for that.”
The Council for Exceptional Children recognized Kaip’s efforts and selected him for its Yes I Can! Award in April, a national honor given to 21 students with disabilities making a difference in their schools and communities.
When Kaip turned 18 last May, he was elected to the Dreams In Motion board. Kaip’s mother said the organization’s goal is to become part of the Paralympic Sport Club network — Kaip is working on the application.
And he’ll hardly halt his efforts there.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever get to a point where I’ll say we can stop now,” Kaip said. “I want to keep growing. I want to give as many kids as many opportunities as possible.”