To call blind hockey remarkable doesn’t do it justice. Because of my working relationship with Courage Canada founder Mark Demontis, who hosted a program on AMI-TV called Sports Access, for which I was the coordinating producer, I was given the opportunity to learn first hand about sports and recreation activities for people in Canada who are blind or visually impaired. There is a difference, just like there is a difference in blind hockey. “Totals”, as they’re referred, are persons who are totally blind. They play in net. Those with barely any sight play defense, and then those with visual impairments to a lesser degree play forward. Those are the basics. The rest of the rules, and the effort, and the inspiration behind playing blind hockey, well, I hate to say it, but you have to see it to believe it.
For people in Toronto and environs, you’ll have a chance to see it this weekend, during the 4th annual National Blind Hockey Tournament presented by the organization once known only as Courage Canada, now known as the Canadian Blind Hockey Association. There will soon be a similar organization developing in the United States and hopefully in the not-so-distant future, similar groups elsewhere around the world. That’s the goal of this weekend’s tournament, to gradually begin those next steps. For the first time in the tournament’s brief history, there will be an “open” division, for newcomers and those with less experience, and a “select” match-up, featuring players with visual impairment with a lot more skill and experience. I’m looking forward to helping out by doing the play-by-play for those select games, one on Friday, one on Saturday, and the deciding game on Sunday.
How does a blind goalie play hockey? Great first question. Well, the puck rattles, and the rules require the attacking team to pass the puck at least once after the team gains the blue line. Thus the defenders and the goalie can hear the noise-making puck being passed. Beyond that, once it’s fired, it’s all about the goalie’s positioning, and then his ability to react to the rebound once it lands, or to the carom off the post or end boards. He then flops into a new position guarding the net. It’s a regulation goal, only the top-third is covered by a tarp, to make it a little tougher to score, and to protect these net-minders from getting drilled in the head by frequent high shots. They do anyway, but they love it.
The rest of the rules are somewhat self-explanatory, you just have to show up and watch, or watch online at www.blindicehockey.net or http://sportscanada.tv/couragecanada/. The links will be up once the tourney starts. You can catch the select games this Friday at 3:30 eastern, Saturday at 5 pm, and Sunday at 12:30 pm. Your support for these and the open-division games is greatly appreciated. There are many enthusiastic and dedicated individuals, sighted and otherwise, who have spent a lot of their time making this game’s growth a reality. Part of the e-mail I received from Matt Morrow, the Executive Director of the Canadian Blind Hockey Association said this:
We’re planning on making a really important promo video of clips from the Select Division games including the play-by-play to use in convincing the IPC (International Paralympic Committee), the IBSA (International Blind Sports Association), and the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation), and all hockey loving countries to start their own programs.
Hear, hear! I’m down with that. The goal is to develop and grow Blind Hockey into a Paralympic sport by sometime in the 2030’s. This weekend’s tournament is just another outstanding step.