*Cross posted on The Rabbit Hole.
Hopefully, you are familiar with sledge hockey at this point but what do you know about Blind Hockey? So often we judge people by what they are unable to do that we forget about all the things of which they are capable. While blind hockey may not match the speed of the NHL’ers (and really how many people can play at that pace) these athletes move at a fast clip. Players range from the legally blind to those with complete blindness. The athletes with the “lowest vision” abilities play defence or goal and there are five main rules adaptations for blind hockey:
- Face-offs begin with the puck on the ice and the players may only touch it on the referee’s whistle
- Goals may only be scored in the bottom 3 feet of the net
- Teams must complete one pass prior to being able to score in the attacking zone
- The game is played with standard IIHF safety protocols including no-touch icing, and crease violations to ensure utmost player safety
- All players must wear full protective gear including face mask
Also, the puck is considerably larger and it beeps allowing player to track its movement. Currently, Blind Hockey is only played in Canada. The game was invented in Canada with the Toronto Ice Owls being founded in 1972 and Les Hiboux Montreal following in 1978. Teams are co-ed and ages range from teenagers to those in their 70s. Only recently has the sport been centrally organized with Courage Canada, Canadian Blind Sports, and Defi Sportif taking the lead in growing the sport. Historically, there has been very little coordination between Blind Hockey teams in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Sudbury, Renfrew and Ottawa all creating their own rules and adapted puck. Recently, Courage Canada partnered with the Vancouver Canucks Alumni to put on a showcase of Blind Hockey at Burnaby 8 Rinks. Fifteen Blind Hockey players from the Vancouver Eclipse got to play a game with and against Alumni players. In February this year, coinciding with Hockey Day in Canada, the Third Annual National Blind Hockey Tournament took place at Ryerson University’s Athletic Center featuring athletes from seven provides and two US states.
While those of us who take our sight for granted usually comment on the quality of the ice, the design of the benches (ahem, 8 Rinks), or the lighting, to visually impaired players the sounds of the rink are imperative to their success. “The echoes are different,” said Gary Steeves, co-founder of and goalie for the Vancouver Eclipse. “When a puck comes off a stick, the impact sound of it really gives a lot of information about direction and speed…How you react to it, I don’t know. Honestly, it’s instinctual.” Each Blind Hockey team has a few players with sight who control the play and describe to their teammates what is happening on the ice; however, they are not allowed to score.
Blind Hockey offers a camaraderie that many people with disabilities often miss out on. Where “regular” hockey may come with a lot of bravado and intimidation, for Blind Hockey, “The most important player on the ice is the newbie, because we want him to stay with the team. We have to alleviate his fears. We give him time and space to develop confidence. We even go easy on him for a few games, let him carry the puck for a few seconds before we go after him,” explains a player from Les Hiboux. But perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to play hockey offers a sense of freedom that cannot be found in many places for the visually impaired: “What a lot of people don’t realize is that, when you’re visually impaired, you spend your life being careful. We cannot run or even walk too fast. We cannot find the same exhilaration of speed and feeling free any other way.”
We often touch on issues of race and gender at Hockey in Society, but (dis)ability continues to be a bastion of inequality that receives little attention. I think most people are inspired by stories of persons with disabilities that excel in the world of sport but it is also something that is easily forgotten. According to the Courage Canada website:
Statistics Canada estimates that only 35% of working age adults who are blind or visually impaired have jobs, and 50% make less than $20,000 annually. Children who are blind have lower fitness levels and higher obesity rates than their sighted counterparts, largely due to a lack of adapted physical activity and sport programs available for them. Because of these barriers, estimates indicate as low as 3% of Canadians with a disability are able to participate in sport or recreations activities…
So if you are looking for some new way to get involved in hockey or don’t know where your next donation should go, you might want to consider supporting Blind Hockey in one way or another.