Mighty Penguins players gaining recognition for sled hockey

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The wall mural at the original Primanti Bros. location in the Strip District, featuring the images of about 200 Pittsburghers including Sidney Crosby and Franco Harris, gained two new faces Thursday.

Added to the mural were the faces of Dan McCoy and Josh Wirt, both members of the Mighty Penguins sled hockey team, which formed more than a decade ago for children and adults with disabilities. Their mugs are located toward the rear of the restaurant, on the wall across from the bar and beneath the caricature of Joe Manganiello, an actor who is a Mt. Lebanon native.

In a quick ceremony Thursday morning, Primanti Bros. recognized Mr. McCoy, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Pittsburgh and Mr. Wirt, 28, of Saltsburg by unveiling the depiction of their faces on the mural and presenting the Mighty Penguins organization with a $5,000 check.

Primanti Brothers unveils sports mural

Primanti Brothers in the Strip unveiled additions to its restaurant mural -- two members of the Mighty Penguins, a hockey program for disabled athletes. (Video by Kalea Hall; 4/4/2013)

"We thought that the two of them would be a great addition," said Lara Bentz, director of operations for Primanti Bros. "We're honored to have them on our wall."

The two men, who both use wheelchairs and have been involved with the Mighty Penguins since the late 1990s, said they hoped their presence in the mural would bring more attention to their sport.

"We just want to see the sport grow, and hopefully [see] the sport grow in Pittsburgh," Mr. Wirt said.

People have been playing sled hockey in Pittsburgh for more than a decade, but the sport still struggles to make itself known, said team coach Ray Harding, who lives in Jeanette and started coaching 12 years ago after a physical therapist for his son, who has spina bifida, suggested it. He hopes the mural will make more people aware of sled hockey.

In sled hockey, which is played much like ice hockey, players sit on sleds affixed with blades and use shortened hockey sticks to hit the puck and move themselves around the ice.

The Pittsburgh team began in 1998 and now includes about 55 players ranging in age from 5 to 45, said Angie McCoy of Cheswick, executive director of the Mighty Penguins and mother of Mr. McCoy. The team, which is supported by the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, has sent its members to compete around the country and the world playing competitive hockey.

"We're trying now to grow it and really show, no matter what your disability, no matter how severe, we have a place for you to compete, or just to come for self-esteem, confidence, socialization," Ms. McCoy said.

Her son, who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, has had about 20 surgeries in his life. Later this week, he is traveling to South Korea to compete in an international sled hockey competition.

Thursday, sitting by his mural portrait, he was wearing the gold medal he won with the U.S. team at the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge, as the sport is called internationally, in Norway. His mother said she and her husband are amazed by what their son has accomplished and where sled hockey has taken him.

"He has made us so proud," Ms. McCoy said. "He is truly our hero."

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe: http://press.post-gazette.com/ Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published April 4, 2013 7:45 PM


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