Omaha, Neb. – Ask any team in a short tournament, and they will tell you that it is imperative to get out to a hot start. That is no different for Dayton Stealth, as their trip to Omaha has resulted in a 2-0 record with a 16-2 goal differential through the first two days of action at the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.
One of the players that has played a large part in the start is Ben Stewart, a forward who scored twice in their 10-1 victory over Greenville on Thursday and scored a pivotal power play goal in the third period, eventually leading his team to a 6-1 win on Friday.
“Me and my teammate did a give-and-go and I got it back in the middle,” said Stewart. “I saw the goalie didn’t know where the puck was so I shot it through the five hole.”
“In between periods the boys were feeling pretty blue,” coach Kelly Friedman said, referring to a 2-1 tightly contested game heading into the third period. He and Stewart then looked at each other, and he knew Stewart was going to do something special. “After he scored, from there on the flood gates opened up.”
Stewart scored a big third period goal in the 6-1 victory for the Dayton Stealth on Friday.
Stewart brings that type of leadership and playmaking ability to the team from Dayton, Ohio. Friedman says he brings a combination of playmaking finesse with stability for his team. What makes part of his story even more special is that he does all of this with only one hand.
Stewart has been missing part of his right arm since birth, so when he skates, he tucks the stick on the right side and uses his left arm to shoot and make plays.
“Growing up, there were probably some challenges as a I started. But mostly, it was kind of just natural to me as I kept going,” Stewart said. In fact, ask Stewart how he describes himself as a hockey player, and he plays right into the fact that he only has one hand.
“One-handed, good playmaking, nice passing, good hand and a good shot.”
There was never a doubt to Ben that he was going to get into hockey. His two older brothers played, so they all grew up playing together in the house.
“It was kind of hockey, hockey, hockey and I just kind of inherited it,” said Stewart.
It’s been a lot of good hockey, hockey, hockey for the Dayton Stealth as well. The team is enjoying their trip to Nationals, and trying to soak in every minute.
“We came into this tournament, we want to move pucks and crash the net like there’s no tomorrow,” Friedman said. “We’re sticking to the process that got us here and our systems seem to be working.”
Along with the team bonding on the ice, the team comprised of high school students without high school hockey teams available locally have bonded off the ice. Most of the team decided to bleach their hair, and for those who didn’t, the majority have decided to sport mullets for Nationals.
“Why not?” said Stewart with a laugh when asked about it. “You only get one shot at this, so might as well make the most of it.”
It’s clear that Stewart loves the game of hockey, and between his team’s early success at Nationals coupled with his personal success, there’s no doubt the trip to Omaha from Dayton has been a fun ride so far. Looking at his overall hockey experience, Stewart offered some advice to players wanting to get into hockey, no matter what circumstances they may face.
“Don’t stop trying and have fun. If you’re having fun, you kind of just build everything off of that.”
Photo courtesy of Courtney Lemmerbock