By Michael Svac, USA Hockey Central District Disabled Hockey Representative
Try hockey is for everyBODY and that includes those with disabilities. The Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team, led by team manager, Stephanie Sim, were recently very busy as they prepared for yet another successful Try Hockey For Free event. The Try Hockey For Free clinic was held as part of Come Play Hockey Month on Saturday, November 9 at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill.
“Today was a great day as we were able to host another successful ‘Try Hockey’ event for those with vision impairments. Because of this amazing event we were able to add two new players to our outstanding program which is part of the Chicago Blackhawks organization,” said Stephanie. “The preparation work by our many volunteers was greatly appreciated as these new individuals with vision impairments have the opportunity to now be a hockey player and be part of the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey Team.”
Try Hockey for Free Days provide youth hockey associations with a national platform and opportunity to acquire new players locally. Associations have the ability to attract new players for this season as well as capture interested families for the following season. This initiative is a joint-effort between USA Hockey, the National Hockey League and NHL member clubs.
What is Blind Hockey?
By USA Hockey – Blind Hockey is the same exhilarating, fast-paced sport as Ice Hockey with only one main difference – all of the players are legally blind. Players must be classified as eligible in one of the three International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) classifications.
Typically: totally blind athletes play goal (or defense); lower sighted athletes play defense; and higher sighted athletes play forward.
The most significant modification is that the sport features an adapted puck that makes noise, and is both bigger and slower than a traditional puck. Players’ levels of vision range from legally blind – approximately 10% vision or less – to totally blind. Blind Hockey is an excellent spectator sport as it is easily recognizable to the average hockey fan, with minimal rule adaptations to help with gameplay and player safety.
- Custom 3 foot high nets are used rather than the traditional 4 foot nets to keep the puck low and near the ice so it can make noise and be tracked aurally.
- Teams must complete one pass in the attacking zone prior to being able to score. This provides both the low vision defense and the goalie an extra opportunity to track the puck.
- An on ice official uses a different whistle to indicate that a pass has been completed and the attacking team is eligible to score.
- Tag-up off-sides is used with the assistance of verbal communication from on ice officials. 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.
Blind Hockey has been played in Canada since the early 1970’s. The sport was first played in the U.S. on October 18, 2014 with the first ever Blind Hockey Summit in Newburgh, NY. At this event local players and visiting Canadian players formed two teams and played two structured games, following a try-it session which introduced the sport to many new players. At the 2015 USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival, in Buffalo, NY, blind Hockey was introduced to the rest of the Disabled Hockey Community. Again, U.S. and Canadian players came together to form two teams and played a single exhibition game.
Word has spread quickly about this new discipline of hockey, and players and programs have sprung up all over the country. The Blind Hockey Summit is now an annual USA Hockey sanctioned event which brings players and administrators together from across the country to play and grow the sport.
As one of the fastest growing segments of Disabled Hockey, blind hockey is a great opportunity for those individuals with vision impairment to be a part of the best sport in the world, ice hockey!