Easton Schultz knows the joy and exhilaration that comes from playing hockey. And for the last two years he’s been making sure that every kid, regardless of their abilities, can experience that same feeling.
Schultz, who graduated from Hudson High School in June and was a member of Hudson’s 2021 state-winning boys hockey team, recently secured a donation of 25 brand new sets of hockey equipment from the National Hockey League Players Association Goals and Dreams Foundation for the Hudson Special Hockey program
The $20,000 worth of equipment will help a program that is close to Schultz’ heart. After breaking his collarbone during his sophomore season two years ago, he was inspired by a younger student at school with Down Syndrome named Isaac Witt, who loved hockey but never had the chance to play.
“His parents never thought he would have the opportunity to play, and I was like, why not? Just because he has Down syndrome?” Schultz recalled. “And they said, you think he can play? And I said absolutely! So we went to Play it Again Sports and got him some equipment and threw him on the ice. And before you know it, he's playing in the Hudson Hockey Association for a Mite team.”
After seeing Witt thrive on the ice Schultz thought, why not give all kids of all abilities the opportunity to play? And before he knew it, through word of mouth, he had 11 kids of various ages and disabilities showing interest in hockey.
He got his Raider teammates to help coach the kids, and the Hudson Hockey Association stepped up with donated equipment and ice time, and two years later the numbers in the program had grown to over 30.
“The first year it was a pretty small group, but a super, super tight group, a super fun group, who really embraced the whole movement of playing hockey and trying to learn new things,” Schultz said. “And the second year there was a ton of improvement and a ton of fun. It just spread like wildfire. Word of mouth. Everyone was saying you got to try this.”
With the growing numbers came more challenges-- including finding enough equipment for all the players. That’s when Schultz’s high school coach-- former Raider and NHL player Davis Drewiske-- encouraged him to apply for a grant through the NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams Foundation. And in May the foundation responded by donating 25 full sets of brand new equipment to the Hudson Special Hockey program.
Drewiske said he witnessed firsthand the joy the sport of hockey brought to the athletes involved with Hudson Special Hockey, but also saw the need for more equipment.
“Fortunately, with the donation from NHLPA Goals and Dreams, we are able to keep these incredible athletes on the ice playing a game they love,” he said.
Schultz is quick to spread around the credit for the success of the program and the procurement of the new equipment-- especially with the Hudson Hockey Association and his high school coach Drewiske.
“I'm just speechless with what to say to everyone who has helped me along the way, especially with getting this huge donation,” he said. “I mean it almost brings me to tears. It's just so amazing that I have such a strong community to rely on to help me build this program for these kids. It's gonna go a long way. Every single kid will have their own equipment-- head to toe-- with a stick and everything.” It'll be just tremendous.”
Schultz will be heading to Iowa State University in the fall to study business finance, but he plans on making plenty of trips home each February and March to help with the program he founded.
He said even though his youth and high school playing days may be over, he’s looking forward to feeling the joy and exhilaration of the sport from another perspective.
“I was so blessed to be able to play hockey for as long as I did,” he said. “And I can remember back to when I first started playing, with my parents watching me, how I was so happy to finally stand up and skate. This just brings me back to feeling maybe a little bit how they felt. I’m kind of seeing it from the other side, not being the one that’s playing and successful but being the one that’s watching and thinking, all these people-- the hockey community-- gave this kid the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. And being able to see their happiness makes me happier in the end.”
Schultz and Hudson Special Hockey will celebrate the donation of equipment from the NHLPA with an appreciation event at the Hudson Civic Center Wednesday, July 21 from 6-8 p.m. with food, games and other activities for the kids and their families.