US Blind Hockey Team Recognizes Three Volunteers Who Have Made a Positive Impact During Covid

USA Hockey’s Doris Donley, USA Hockey Blind Hockey Representative and Michael Svac, USA Hockey Representative for the Central District, recognized three individuals for their outstanding leadership in supporting the United States Blind Hockey organization. 

Gretchen Cockey, Communications Manager for the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, and the newly appointed Communications Director for the US Blind Hockey Team, has been actively involved in supporting disabled hockey in the Central District for several years and was very instrumental in the communication efforts in promoting the Disabled Hockey Festival that was hosted in Chicago in 2018.

According to Svac, “Gretchen played a significant part in our disabled hockey programs in Chicago and when asked to help with the US Blind Hockey team she did not hesitate and jumped in to help increase our digital presence.” With Gretchen’s help, the US Blind Hockey team launched a new website, which continues to elevate the quality of the Blind Hockey Program.

“We are very appreciative of all the work she has done for many years to promote hockey for those with a disability,” said Donley.

John Enders (left) and Dan Phillips (right), Social Workers for Central Association for the Visually Impaired (CABVI) and after receiving the 2020 US Blind Hockey recognition award.

Additionally, two representatives from the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI) were also recognized for their dedication and commitment to the US Blind Hockey Team since July 2018.

John Enders and Dan Phillips are both CABVI social workers who experience vision loss. CABVI helps people with low vision cope with stressors related to their lack of sight and continue to seek new ways to help people who are blind or visually impaired.

“John and Dan are part of the family,” said Donley, “and they continue to be there for all of our players whether it’s through counseling, writing an article for the Blind Hockey Newsletter (“Living with Low-Vision and the Coronavirus: A Guide to Coping”) or just providing advice to help our volunteers learn about the disability of a vision impairment.”

“COVID was rough for everyone, especially those with a disability who were faced with significant challenges that may have impacted their daily routine,” said Svac. “We were backed into a corner with no opportunity to bring the team together which created a sense of being disconnected.”

To help fight the battle, coaches pulled on the expertise of John and Dan, with the help of Zoom, by structuring weekly communications with all players that lasted several months.

“The weekly calls were all about connecting and getting our Team back together as a Team of One” said Svac “and John and Dan were there to structure real time working sessions three days a week that only focused on our players’ mental state helping them cope with the challenges that they faced.”  The Team sessions continued throughout 2021 with the support of our partner CABVI.

A special thank you and congratulations to Gretchen, Dan and John for being part of the success and growth for blind and visually impaired hockey.

What is Blind Hockey?

Blind Hockey is the same exhilarating, fast-paced sport as Ice Hockey with only one main difference – all 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!

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