116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Some day, some year, he'll make the team. Jordan Kapsalakis is sure of that.
He sees himself scoring the winning goal in a game, dropping the gloves and fighting the other team's bully. Hoisting the Clark Cup after the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders win the United States Hockey League championship.
Oh, it's going to happen. No doubt.
'I'm a pretty good skater,' he says. 'Maybe I should be in the hall of fame.'
Kapsalakis doesn't really need that. Just being around his favorite hockey team is enough to make him happy.
'Woooo!' he shouts, as he leaves the RoughRiders locker room after a recent practice.
Coach Mark Carlson smiles and shakes his head when he hears it. That's Jordan's trademark.
It was about six years ago when Carlson got a phone call in his office at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. A 16-year-old Kapsalakis wanted to know if he could come over and try out for the team.
He was serious. The kid had grown up going to games, fell in love with the sport and figured it was about time to play with his idols.
'I don't even remember the exact way it started. I don't want to tell you the wrong thing,' Carlson said. 'He was asking about trying out for the team, then he would ask me if he could dress and play in games. For awhile, he wanted to be the captain.'
Anyone who has ever met Carlson can tell you his level of intensity as a coach. He's laser-focused from the second he gets to the rink until the second he leaves.
But there was just something about this special-needs kid that tugged at his heart. It wouldn't be right to tell him to bug off and stop bothering everyone.
So the coach continued to field Jordan's calls. An invitation to attend practice eventually followed.
'We know the RoughRiders are such a special part of his life, such a special thing to him,' Carlson said. 'One of the things we try to do in the community is help people. I know it brightens his day, every day that he is here, every call that I get from him, the time he spends here. He makes our guys laugh, too. I just love seeing the joy that he has on his face, the fun that he has when he is here.'
Jordan comes to practice once a week or so. Donna Kapsalakis is a single mother who works during the day, so he usually has to get a ride to the Ice Arena from a neighbor.
He doesn't just come to practice, either, but takes part in it, sitting in full gear on one of the team benches with players as they go through drills. Courteous of the process, Jordan keeps respectfully quiet and out of the way.
Once practice has concluded, he's not so quiet, yucking it up as if he's just one of the guys. Which he is, they insist.
'It's fun to have him around,' said RoughRiders forward Jordan Timmons. 'He kind of lightens the mood a little bit. We mess around with him, and he messes around with us. It's good to see him on the ice, nice to see him so happy.'
Kapsalakis has developed a list of favorite players over the years, from Jayson Megna to Charlie Curti to Cal Burke, Andrew Oglevie and Erik Foley. They've moved on to the college and professional ranks, but he wanted to make certain he got a shoutout in for all of them.
There is zero doubt who his main guy is this season.
'Liam Walsh,' Jordan says. 'Liam is funny. He likes to make a lot of jokes at practice.'
'I think it's awesome to have him around,' Walsh said. 'You can just tell it makes his day being here. If you're having a tough day, you see him, you hear him scream, that makes your day a little better, too. It kind of goes both ways.'
Donna Kapsalakis is thankful for the kindness and companionship Carlson, his team and organization have provided her son. The RoughRiders sold Jordan a season ticket for the special price of $100, so he never misses a game.
Tammy Carlson, Mark's wife, coaches him on a rec league, Special Olympics basketball team and has become one of his best confidants. RoughRiders players regularly attend those games to support the athletes.
'They are all his friends,' Donna Kapsalakis said. 'He talks to Tammy every single day, she has been really good to him, too. The guys seem to treat him really good. They know he's got some special needs and things like that, but they welcome him. I'm sure a few are probably not as receptive, but, overall, they've definitely been great with him and for him.'
That's a reciprocal thing.
'People might portray Mark as intense, cold, but Jordan is such a better person because of him,' Tammy Carlson said. 'He listens to Mark, Mark has done wonders for that kid's self esteem.
'And our whole life is better because of Jordan. It really is.'
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