When Kevin Herbert competed against able-bodied hockey players during his teens and early 20s, he used his limb difference to his advantage. If opponents went easy on him, he’d attack the net aggressively. Once they realized he was a scoring threat, he’d draw defenders away and create chances for his teammates.
“You don’t see one-armed hockey players every day,” laughs Herbert, a congenital right below-elbow amputee. “I thrived on that, because teams would give me a lot of space at first. After they figured out they had to defend me, I’d adapt.”
Herbert’s hustle, skill, and superior hockey sense drew the attention of Dave Crandell, founder and coach of the US stand-up amputee hockey team, a fledgling branch of Team USA that was just getting established. Unlike sled hockey, which is played almost entirely with the arms, the stand-up variation is accessible to people with upper-limb difference and leg amputees who can skate on a prosthesis.
“I’d never even thought about playing in college or the pros,” Herbert says. “So when [Crandell] told me I had a chance to compete internationally, and that I might even have the potential to be the first one-armed player in the regular Olympics, it was an incredible feeling.”
But just before an important tournament, Herbert broke his collarbone in an auto accident. Then he rebroke it a few months later, complicating his recovery. “The doctors told me I couldn’t play hockey for two years,” he says. “It instantly hit me: This is over.”
Herbert hung up his skates and became a personal trainer, working regularly with amputees at a New Jersey practice. But while he prospered in his new career, he watched with regret as the national stand-up hockey team lost momentum. “I was going to help them succeed,” he says, “and I wasn’t able to take that opportunity. So naturally I felt some accountability.”
That’s a major reason the now-33-year-old Herbert is staging a comeback: to spark renewed interest in amputee hockey. He has reconnected with Crandell and started laying plans for a regional tournament, spreading the word to amputee support groups, adaptive fitness organizations, amateur hockey clubs, and youth centers. If there’s enough interest, Herbert hopes to stage an event early next year.
“Stand-up hockey could be very popular,” he says, “but it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t see other amputees playing. This would kind of bring everything full circle. I just want people to give it chance, and then we’ll see where it goes.”