GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – It’s a Saturday night in April at Raleigh Center Ice. The band Puddle of Mudd’s “Psycho” is blaring in the cramped locker room. William “Wolf” Hulslander doesn’t seem to mind the music.
He’s preparing for his form of ecstasy: sled hockey.
“Once you start learning to glide on the ice on your skates, it’s pretty freeing thing,” he said. “Then of course there’s that contact thing.”
A love for hitting
Sled hockey can be a cringe-inducing sport, watching men and women crash into each other while sitting in buckets.
The speed and nature of the game appears just as brutal as “stand-up” ice hockey.
It’s popular for disabled people like Wolf. Both his legs are amputated above the knee.
As he sits in the buckets, equipped with a skate underneath, he propels himself forward using two hockey sticks like oars.
Wolf plays for the “Triangle CAT 5 Canes,” a team that loves to hit each other.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “It’s just one of those things where they’re going to hit me, I can’t be afraid of that so just get up and keep on going.”
It’s an attitude needed for sled hockey, but it’s one that’s defined Wolf’s life.
Behind the scenes
5 hours & 47 minutes
It was June 6, 1999 around 2 p.m. Wolf was the only one working inside the National Spinning yarn manufacturing plant in Washington, North Carolina.
“I heard a ‘sshhhh,’ the sound of an airline leaking somewhere.”
He found the leak in a conveyor belt with a lift table.
“About the time I got there, it decided it wasn’t going to stay up no more.”
The heavy equipment crashed onto him, trapping him.
“I was like screaming like ‘ahhh,'” he recalled. “I was cursing God. I was thinking about my wife at the time.”
After the initial shock, he did what he knew best: he kept going.
“Yeah I’m trapped, so I’ll just make the best of the situation.”
Wolf was trapped for 5 hours and 47 minutes until he was found by a co-worker.
He was rushed to then-Pitt County Memorial Hospital where doctors amputated his legs above the knee. He had lost circulation while he was trapped.
“My life had changed, but it wasn’t over.”
The sport for him
Wolf proved his disability wouldn’t stop him.
He participated in several charity run/walks, but since October 2014 when the “Cat 5 Canes” came to Greenville for a demonstration of what they do, his passion now is sled hockey.
“That sled hockey looks like it would be fun. I might be pretty good at it,” he said. “I tried out and said, ‘damn, this is the sport for me, ya know.'”
His fellow teammates noticed and invited him to Raleigh to practice with them.
He then followed them to the NHL Sled Classic in Washington, D.C. When not enough teams showed up due to bad weather, he ended up playing against the “Cat 5 Canes.”
He ended up beating his future teammates.
“Well we ain’t going to let that happen anymore,” he recalled his teammates saying. “So they put me on the team.”
A lofty goal
Wolf said he likes to encourage his teammates and lead through action; something he wants to expand to other disabled people in eastern North Carolina.
He wants to start a wheelchair sports organization with sled hockey as the first sport.
“It’s a challenge I’m going to take and move forward that way,” he said. “Life is a challenge, but keep a positive attitude and live life.”