LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS) – Like all kids growing up in Canada, hockey was simply a way of life for Scott Stafford … even though he was born without a left hand.
The 23-year-old never considered not playing hockey.
“Growing up in southern Ontario and it’s hockey, hockey, hockey,” said Stafford when CBS4 caught up with him at last week’s tryouts in Littleton for the Denver Cutthroats, the Double A Avalanche-affiliated team that plays their games at the Denver Coliseum. “Even though I was born without my left hand, I wanted to play and be a regular Canadian kid.”
“My parents, especially my dad, helped me develop a way to handle my stick and control the puck,” Stafford said.
That involves first wrapping his jersey around his left arm then taping it. Then on goes a wrist guard.
“I hold the stick with my bottom hand like any normal hockey player but my left arm just goes up to the shaft to give me support,” Stafford explained.
He also puts a knob of tape on the stick to give him more stability when it rests near his elbow.
Stafford said a lot of players may not realize he’s missing his left hand.
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“It’s kind of difficult at first because of the way I hold my stick and I use a black wrist guard so it not might be that evident,” Stafford said. “But hockey players are hockey players, they respect athletes as long as you are working hard and having fun.”
Stafford said his fondest memories are playing hockey on those Canadian rinks and ponds, especially because he was just another kid playing the nation’s No. 1 sport.
“Kids are a lot easier to adapt than adults, you’re just out there playing hockey,” he said. “As you get older, there’s a lot more questions about ‘How do you do this?’ You might not be able to keep up with the strength but I just try to go, have fun and prove I belong on the ice, work hard. There’s no substitute for hard so if I work hard, hopefully good things will happen.”
Stafford has focused on building his upper strength so he can keep up with the other players his own age.
He prefers to play right wing or center. Face-offs are tough for a player with just one hand because of the power they require but Stafford did them throughout his youth.
And what about fights? Stafford has had a scuffle or too.
“I don’t put myself in a volatile situation on the ice. I don’t drop the glove by any means but I will fight if I get jumped. … It’s self-defense or if I’m sticking up for a teammate or a goalie, that’s kind of the only times I’ve ever had to drop my gloves and stick up for myself. I’m not the greatest fighter but it’s a team game out there and you have to stick up for teammates.”
Stafford hopes he can play in the Central League and hopefully in Denver. If he doesn’t make the Cutthroats, he’ll try out for other teams.
He also knows he likely won’t have an extended career on the ice.
“In five years, I can see my hockey career winding down and I could get into the hockey operations, the business side of the sport,” he said.
Stafford recently graduated from college with a degree in sports management.
For now, though, it’s about getting on the ice and being part of a team.
“Hockey players are hockey players, they respect athletes as long as you are working hard and having fun. The biggest compliment I can get is that I’m accepted out there and they respect how hard I’ve worked to get to this level.”
– Written for CBSDenver.com by Raetta Holdman