Goaltender inspires, leads Turnstone Flyers to national competition

Gary Hurt
Turnstone Flyers goaltender Gary Hurt during a recent practice. (Photo courtesy of Matt Whitney)

At the start of last season, the Turnstone Flyers sled hockey team desperately needed another goaltender. Practice had already started, and the games were coming up fast.

Gary Hurt, a Parkinson’s Disease patient who also has degenerative back problems, was living in Marion and feeling down. He’d always been active in sports, and when he discovered Turnstone online and its adaptive sports program, he convinced his wife Katrina to let him try something.

“It kind of made me perk up when I got a hold of them and they said they had hockey,” Hurt said.

Despite being a casual fan who grew up in Hawaii, Hurt had never played before. Realizing he wouldn’t be a very good sled skater right away, the former baseball catcher decided he wanted to play goaltender. During the first practice, new teammates had to help push Hurt from one end of the ice to the other, but they also had difficulty scoring on him.

“If Gary hadn’t called us when he did, I don’t know what we would have done,” Flyers coach Matt Whitney said. “The stars aligned.”

Remarkably so. With their new backstop, the Flyers kept improving and advanced to the national tournament where Hurt posted three shutouts in five games as Turnstone won the title. He hadn’t had a shutout all season which showed how much he had improved. As his mobility and conditioning increased, there were fewer holes in his game, and the activity helped his overall lifestyle.

“On the ice is the only place where I truly feel like my disabilities are gone,” Hurt said. “They don’t even hardly affect me out there. I almost feel like I’m an able-bodied player to a point because nothing happens.”

It’s a remarkable story that’s not over. Hurt already has four shutouts this year as the Flyers head into this weekend’s 10th annual Bob Chase Frostbite Classic and 8th Annual Silver Stick Sled Hockey Finals at Parkview Icehouse. Opening ceremonies start at 2:20 p.m., Saturday, after Turnstone’s first game at 12:50 p.m. Turnstone also plays at 4:40 p.m. Saturday, 7:40 a.m. and 12:10 p.m. Sunday. The Silver Stick Championship game is Sunday at 1:50 p.m.

Hurt, 50, plays more like a typical hockey enforcer than he does as a goaltender. He talks a lot on the ice, to both teams, encouraging his teammates and sometimes mocking the opponents. He provided the attitude and edge that the Flyers were lacking to step up in quality. Opponents know not to skate too close to his crease, and they better never take a cheap shot on his teammates.

“They say a lot of goalies are kind of quiet,” Hurt said. “I’m nuts, but I’m going to let you know I’m nuts, too. Don’t cross my crease because I’m going to knock you out of it, and don’t mess with my teammates. That’s why it’s probably one of the better reasons that I don’t skate out because I’d have too many penalties. I’d probably get kicked out of the league. I’m old-school, I always thought the goon was the coolest player.”

He also takes every goal against personally, providing the Flyers with a new perspective when he joined the team. Most of the players had been part of the team for years, and some were just playing for recreational fun, but Hurt wanted to win every game. His passion helped re-energize his teammates competitively.

“When you have a goalie that has passion and works his tail off, you work your tail off for him,” said 12-year sled player and Turnstone Recreation and Sports Coordinator Kevin Hughes. “You don’t want to let him down. He has this sense of pride that causes you to rally behind that mindset.”

Over the summer, Hurt attended three goalie camps to learn more. When he first started, he built a net he placed in front of his garage door and asked Katrina to fire shots at him, and they both got pretty good at it. Before practice started this season, he had her stand behind him and fire racquetballs at a tennis court backboard he was facing so he could work on reaction time.

“The physical aspect of all this is amazing,” Katrina said. “His blood pressure isn’t high like it used to be, and he’s lost so much weight. This has been a total release for him, and I’m so glad. It turns out I need the hockey for myself so it pacifies Gary because it would sure change his world if he didn’t play. This has done nothing but improve his life.”

Hurt is a different person on the ice, but he says that’s hockey.

Now his goals for this year are to get an assist during a game, help win another national championship and in the future try to become a United States Paralympic Hockey Team member. That’s amazing considering he’s only been playing slightly longer than a year and he’s 50 years old, but none of his teammates doubt his drive or say that becoming a national team player is out of the question. He’s still improving, and they believe in him.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without my teammates,” he said. “They have inspired me and given me the confidence. They are my brothers out there. I’m so close to those guys that I don’t think they really realize it. These guys mean the world to me. They make me want to do better, not just for myself, but for them.”