Whitehall-Coplay Press

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Winter Classic set for January 25

Thursday, January 23, 2020 by Scott Pagel spagel@tnonline.com in Sports

The annual Lehigh Valley Winter Classic will take place on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 at the Bethlehem Municipal rink located at 345 Illick’s Mill Rd, Bethlehem.

The Winter Classic is an all day ice hockey celebration with all the proceeds going to the SPHL (Special Hockey of the Lehigh Valley) Polar Bears team. The event started back in 2014 and continues to grow, raising $3,000 its first year to a record $44,000-plus in 2019.

The event includes full regulation hockey games featuring local teams from the area, merchandise to purchase, a huge gift basket raffle section, silent auctions, food stand and special appearances from professional hockey alumni, which this year includes former Flyers Bill Clement and Todd Fedoruk along with NHL Hall of Fame referee Kerry Fraser.

“Simply put, the Winter Classic is what makes Special Hockey of the Lehigh Valley possible for the 40 families we serve here in our community,” said Joseph Guellnitz, President and Co-Founder of Special Hockey of the Lehigh Valley. Guellnitz’s wife, Nicole Jensen-Guellnitz, is the other co-founder.

“In a single day, we are able to raise enough funds to power our program for the year and this is all thanks to the generosity of local businesses, volunteers and adult hockey players,” Guellnitz said. “Most importantly, though, we can’t say enough about the Lehigh Valley Whalers adult hockey club who run this entire event for us. Their work allows us to focus our efforts on helping our players have a great time learning this incredible sport and fostering an environment for them to grow both on and off the ice.”

Games kick off as early as 8 a.m. on Jan. 25, and run throughout the day. The event hosts, the Lehigh Valley Whalers, will be among the teams playing that day along with 17 other local hockey clubs.

Bill Clement, Kerry Fraser, and Todd Fedoruk will be available for autographs and photos with fans from 1-1:45 p.m. before they drop the puck for the feature game at 2 p.m., when the Lehigh Valley Polar Bears face off against another special hockey team, the Bucks County Admirals.

Special Hockey of the Lehigh Valley gives children and adults with Autism, Down Syndrome and other cognitive challenges the chance to learn and play ice hockey in an inclusive and supportive environment. The team continues to grow with more players and a network of dedicated coaches and volunteers who help to make it all possible.

The Polar Bears are run by a growing team of passionate volunteers who work to meet the unique needs of players on and off the ice. In addition to teaching hockey, the program seeks to build confidence, foster friendships, and provide a supportive environment for all of the players and their families.

No prior hockey or skating experience is required to join — new players are provided with assistive equipment and work 1-on-1 with one of the many volunteer coaches until they are ready to skate on their own.

Special Hockey adapts many of the rules found in traditional hockey to make the game safer and more enjoyable for the participants. Special Hockey doesn’t ever want cost to be the reason a child can’t play hockey, so SHLV is a low cost program. According to their website, there have been no registration or ice fees since the program started and there is a substantial inventory of free equipment that is loaned to the players.

“When the Whalers reached out to us about being part of the Winter Classic, we were beyond grateful,” said Guellnitz. “We had just started SHLV, didn’t have any funding yet, and the money they raised allowed us to start making our vision a reality.

“We never imagined that five years later we’d be part of this incredible collaboration that raises in a single day. Our whole organization is humbled by the overwhelming generosity of the Whalers and the people of the Lehigh Valley that come together for the Winter Classic, and give the gift of hockey to those with special needs.”