By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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PHOTOS BY JOE LUMAYA/SPECIAL TO THE STAR The California Condors’ Avi Krisman (right) tries to block a pass from Ventura County firefighter Ryan Flitt (left) during a fundraising game Saturday at the Iceoplex in Simi Valley.

Hockey game raises funds for players with special needs

Waiting to enter the ice rink in a hockey game against members of the Ventura County Fire Department, Chris Kuchinka was confident in the abilities of his team.

“We’re gonna extinguish them,” joked Kuchinka, 19, of Moorpark.

The teen, born with mild cerebral palsy, is a member of the California Condors, a team made up of players with special needs, including autism and other developmental disabilities.

On Nov. 8 at the Iceoplex Ice Arena in Simi Valley, the Condors played against the firefighters to raise money for the Condors to compete in the Special Hockey International 2015 Tournament in Ottawa, Canada.

“We would like to go and represent California,” said Rita Eagle, of Marina del Rey, founder and manager of the California Condors, a nonprofit effort made possible by volunteers and donations. “We travel to various tournaments. This is a big one, and we want to go because it’s international.”

Eagle said the Condors are the first ice hockey team in California to have special-needs kids with autism, cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

“It’s incredibly safe,” she said. “These kids live for it.”

Parent Phil Kuchinka praised the Iceoplex for donating ice time to the cause in which his son participates.

“Rita does a great job, and the Iceoplex has gone out of their way to make these guys have a great experience,” he said.

Ed Spafford, a captain at Fire Station 30 in Thousand Oaks, donated his time as a defenseman on Saturday “because it’s a great cause.”

“When you watch how happy they are when they’re out there ... it’s pretty awesome,” said Spafford, of Camarillo. “The whole idea of the game is to raise money for the Condors to play in a tournament up in Canada.”

Firefighter Sean Driscoll, of Camarillo, agreed.

“They’re trying to raise money for a tournament up in Canada, so if we can help them do that, we’ll do whatever we can,” he said.

Saturday’s game was about friendly competition, he said.

“We don’t want to go out and try to hurt each other. Our focus is on having fun,” Driscoll said. “As long as they’re smiling, we’re happy.”

Saturday’s event also included a bake sale with goodies made by volunteers, including Laurie James, of Simi Valley, who contributed red velvet cupcakes, chocolate chip cookie bars and marshmallows dipped in chocolate.

“We need more people to step up and make these programs possible,” James said. “If it weren’t for these people, they couldn’t enjoy this.”

Deborah Perlis, whose son Samuel, 8, was born with a genetic chromosome disorder, said hockey suits his needs.

“He neurologically developed differently, so his processing speeds are different and he gets confused easily,” said Perlis, of Glendale. “When things are moving fast, he can actually keep up. It’s when things slow down that he can’t process.”

Samuel added what he enjoys most about hockey: “skating fast.”

The California Condors accept children for who they are, his mom added.

“There’s no judgment,” Perlis said. “That’s not something we get in everyday life.”

Copyright 2014 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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