Believe it or not the Blackhawks aren’t the only hockey dynasty in town.
The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Chicago Blackhawks — formed in 1999 with the support of the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation — are hot these days. They won the NHL’s USA Hockey Sled Classic at the United Center in February and five of the team’s players played for the gold medal-winning Team USA sled hockey team at the 2018 Winter Paralympics. That on-ice success is in no small part thanks to coach Derek Daniels, the director of adaptive sports and fitness at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (SRAlab) in Streeterville.
Not that he brags about it.
Winning games is great but Daniels’ number one priority isn’t to fill up a trophy case. It’s helping people realize their physical potential — even if they’re disabled. “What’s important to me is getting more people involved in the sport and widening the opportunity for people who want to play sled hockey or adaptive sports,” said Daniels.
Bringing out the best of other people’s athletic abilities is something Daniels always been good at. The 40-year old native of Lapeer, a small Michigan town near Flint, had a sports-obsession growing up that meant playing four varsity sports. But even then he knew he’d never appear on a Wheaties box.
“I was more like the sixth man, the best supporting character,” he said.
But his junior varsity basketball coach recognized his people skills and savvy and asked him to coach youth sports. “That’s kind of how I realized all this could actually be a real career,” said Daniels. “I thought, yeah why not — I got spare time on my hands and I love sports.”