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While hockey has been the forefront of the national and international stage, it’s events and leagues such as the World Junior Championships, NHL and AHL that land center ice in the minds of most people. With winning a Stanley or Calder Cup as the ultimate dream for most professional players. However, your last name doesn’t have to appear on a draft list or NHL roster to garner the dream of going for the gold. Jeff Mansfield of Cambridge, MA and Ryan Krajewski of Duluth, MN have been invited to represent the US in the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships in Finland. Unlike the aforementioned roster of hockey’s elite, these two players have to fund their own dreams of skating for the gold.

A notoriously expensive sport with the cost of equipment and ice time, players looking to participate in the Championships will not only be required to fund those costly requirements, but airfare, meals and lodging as well. The opportunity to head to Finland is given to only a few US hockey players in the hopes of beating out Finland, Canada, Russia and Sweden and adding another gold medal to the United States trophy case.

With opportunity and dreams in the penalty box, Jeff and Ryan turned to GoFundMe to help reach their goals. An online donation platform, GoFundMe makes a point of helping heartfelt causes and dreams become realities.

“GoFundMe is quickly becoming the place where friends and families come together and make a real difference in one another’s lives,” says Brad Damphousse, GoFundMe’s Chief Executive Officer.

While winning the gold is at the forefront of participating in the Championships, the opportunity is about so much more for both Jeff and Ryan. “Hockey is the common bond that brings us together,” said Ryan Krajewski, certainly a sentiment that rings true at every level and inside every arena. Both athletes took a moment to share insight with The Pink Puck on what heading to Finland means to them and why they appreciate the donors supporting their plight.

The Pink Puck: Why is this opportunity so special for you?

Ryan Krajewski: I’ve made friends from across the country who are deaf and hard of hearing, and hockey is the common bond that brings us together. As I get older, I don’t know how many more opportunities like this I will have. Spending time in the deaf and hard of hearing culture is unique and special. Many of our family members will make the trip to Finland to watch us which will make the experience even more special. My wife, for instance, has seen me play hockey but has never been able to see me play on the international stage. It’s a special experience for me, but it is equally special to her.

Jeff Mansfield: For so many reasons.  Growing up as a deaf hockey player comes with its challenges, and when you put together a group of deaf hockey players, these challenges become moot, and we can focus on being hockey players and enjoy fluid, effortless communication with each other.  Every year, over one hundred hockey players of all ages converge in Chicago for a week of training at the Tony Granato Hockey School (formerly the Stan Mikita Hockey School), hosted by the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association, and over the years many of us have developed close friendships.  The World Championships is a unique opportunity to bring together a great group of hockey players together, bound by our deafness and by our quest for Gold.

The Pink Puck: How long have you played hockey? What’s your most memorable moment to date?

RK: I’ve been playing hockey since I was four years old. I’m now 33. As a deaf person, it is normal to be the odd man out in most every activity. When we are able to play with and against others that can’t hear, the experience is really special. My most memorable moments include having the opportunities to train at the Olympic Training Centers in Lake Placid and Colorado Springs and also having won the Gold Medal at the 2007 Salt Lake Deaflympics.

JM: I’ve been playing since 1991, so that’s around 22 years now.  There have been quite a few memorable moments, but winning the Gold Medal at the 2007 Deaflympics in Salt Lake City was the most memorable for numerous reasons.  I was coming off an ankle injury, and no one had expected us to compete for the gold, let alone overcome the Canadian juggernaut.  Yet, game after game we proved that we not only belonged, but we were the best in the world.

The Pink Puck: What would you want to tell a prospective donor?

RK: This is about much more than hockey. Our event helps to bring deaf and hard of hearing folks together from across the world to learn from each other and celebrate our strengths in spite of our disabilities. All of us see this as an opportunity to grow and become better people in the process. It is, however, expensive, and any donation – large or small – is needed and appreciated.

JM: Your contribution goes a long way toward supporting not only our quest for the Gold more importantly, the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association, which connects aspiring young deaf and hard-or-hearing hockey players with each other.  AHIHA is very committed to developing young deaf and hard-of-hearing players, and by letting the kids focus on playing hockey and being themselves, AHIHA really empowers these kids through hockey.  A big part of the USA National Deaf Team is our relationship with AHIHA, and the young hockey players in the organization often aspire to one day be part of the National Team, and this pushes them to realize their potential on and off the ice.  For that reason, funds exceeding the $1,000 goal on the GoFundMe page will go toward AHIHA’s collective fundraising efforts and support a great organization.

The Pink Puck: How did the idea to use GoFundMe come about?

RK: My friend Jeff came across the website and texted me the idea to start my own page. I knew I didn’t want to knock on doors or sell candy bars. Crowdsourcing also seemed like a much more effective means of reaching my audience.

JM: I first heard about GoFundMe when one of my good friends, Pia Marie Paulone, did a GoFundMe page to fund her trip to the 2013 Summer Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria, and she was very positive about her experience with GoFundMe, so I decided to give it a go!

The Pink Puck: How much more do you need to raise before reaching your goal?

RK: I have reached my personal fundraising goal, although the team as a whole has a need for continued fundraising in order to fund the trip.

JM: As of this morning, I’ve actually met my goal of $1,000, although donations are still welcome and anything raised from this point onwards will go toward the team’s collective fundraising efforts.

 The Pink Puck: Is there anything else you’d like to add or want people to know about you, the championships or your cause?

RK: In 2011, we trained hard and were prepared to defend our 2007 Gold Medal at the Slovakia Deaflympics. Unfortunately, the organizers embezzled many of the funds that were sent to pay for the games. Athletes, families, friends, and various organizations lost out on literally millions of dollars due to their criminal behavior. The organizers have since been tried and found guilty for their actions and are serving time in prison. We are putting an even greater emphasis on the 2013 World Championships given that the 2011 event was called off as the team was literally on the bus en route to the airport in New York City. It was a heartbreaking experience that took a toll on all of us financially. As such, the need for fundraising is as great as ever this year and we’re encouraging anyone who is able to help us out.

JM: Most of the guys in the team have been involved with AHIHA for over 10 years, and our hearing loss varies from hard-of-hearing to profoundly deaf.  The minimum hearing loss to be eligible for ICSD (International Committee of Sports for the Deaf)-sanctioned events is 55db in the better ear.  Our players come from various levels of hockey — we have a couple guys, including myself, who have played D-1 NCAA hockey and others that have played D-3 NCAA, ACHA, Junior A, B, and High School hockey.  The website of the AHIHA is ahiha.org.

Interested in learning more or making a donation, be sure to head over to Jeff and Ryan’s individual GoFundMe pages:

Winter was hooked on hockey by age 6, when she first witnessed a bench clearing brawl between the Boston Bruins and the Ottawa Senators. Growing from hockey fan to hockey player, Winter followed her passions by founding The Pink Puck. While she also loves fashion and the outdoors, hockey will always be her center ice. Email: winter@thepinkpuck.com Twitter: @Winter_Adams



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