Hockey players who are able to make plays on the ice are often praised for having great vision.
But what if not having vision is the biggest barrier to getting on the ice?
The good news is that barrier can be removed. Blind hockey programs, including one offered through the Columbus Ice Hockey Club and Columbus Recreation and Parks, offer the chance for those with varying degrees of sight issues to get on the ice and play the sport they love.
“Blind sports totally minimize your weaknesses and amplify your strengths,” said Danny Dukes, a member of the CIHC Ice Eagles team. “If you take me and you put me into an environment that has been adapted and adjusted for a person like me, I am now enabled to succeed.”
Video: Celebrating Blind Hockey in CBUS
As part of this year’s Hockey Is For Everyone celebration, including the annual HIFE Night during the Blue Jackets’ game Friday night vs. Toronto, the Blue Jackets focused the spotlight on blind hockey.
The CIHC team took to the ice to showcase the game during the second intermission of the contest against the Maple Leafs, and presenting partner Vorys delivered the squad with a $10,000 grant that will assist in the purchase of specialized equipment for players and provide the opportunity for the Ice Eagles to take part in the 2023 USA Hockey Disabled Festival.
“It’s our favorite night of the year,” Brittaney Schmidt, chief legal and inclusion officer at Vorys, said of Hockey Is For Everyone. “It’s something we look forward to every year. It represents everything we believe in when we are building a team and approaching our diversity and inclusion work — drawing upon everybody’s individual strengths, creating access to opportunities, and breaking down barriers.
“When we were talking that through with the Blue Jackets, they shared the same back to us.”
In blind hockey, players are classified into different levels based on sight — goaltenders are B1, with no light perception or some light perception in either eye; defenders are B2, meaning they have slightly more vision up to 20/600 visual acuity; and forwards are B3, with visual acuity ranging from 20/200 to 20/600.
In addition, the game is played with a metal puck that is larger and slower than a traditional rubber puck. The puck is filled with metal bearings that make noise, allowing players follow based on where they hear the puck is.
For Ice Eagles defender Trenton Tribble, blind hockey has become a family affair.
“We had a ‘try it’ event with the Blue Jackets and we got to try playing hockey with me and my daughter and my son,” he said. “From then on, I’ve just been all-in on hockey.”
When it comes to watching the sport, fans with visual impairments also have their ways to follow the game. Tom Sagar is a Blue Jackets season ticket holder who lost his sight as the result of a car accident in 1990 when he was a senior in high school.
Video: A new perspective on hockey
He listens to games on the Blue Jackets radio network and also uses cues from the crowd to follow along.
“The broadcast is really what paints the picture in my mind,” he said. “That is really the key to my enjoyment of the game. … When the crowd is a little excited, I know that was a really good save or whatever. I kind of feed off a lot of the crowd noise as well as the broadcast.”
Hockey Is For Everyone Night also included Elk + Elk military honoree Rupert Starr, a World War II veteran who has become a prominent member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Columbus. The 100-year-old Army veteran earned a Bronze Star for his bravery during the Battle of the Bulge before returning home, and he appeared in the documentary film “Courage Under Fire” by Patrick Sammon that advocated the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Starr stood from his wheelchair during the anthem and saluted the crowd, plus he was recognized during a television timeout during the first period.
The Blue Jackets wore special “Hockey Is For Everyone” jerseys during pregame warmups as well that featured iridescent numerals. The jerseys were autographed by players and are available via raffle at cbjauction.givesmart.com.
Before the game, members of the area’s diverse hockey community were recognized on the red line ahead of the anthem. Those recognized included the Blue Jackets Hockey League (BJHL), Capital Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), CCYHA Special Hockey (athletes with special needs), Central Ohio Girl’s Hockey (COGH), Central Ohio Gay Lesbian Ally Hockey Association (COGLAHA), Chiller Adult Hockey League (CAHL), Columbus Chill Youth Hockey Association (CCYHA), Columbus Ice Hockey Club (CIHC), Ohio High School Athletic Association, Ohio AAA Blue Jackets – Girls Development Program, Ohio Sled Hockey (athletes with physical disabilities), and Ohio Warriors Sled Hockey (veterans with physical disabilities).
Members of COGLAHA had the chance to play on the Nationwide Arena ice before the game as well.
During the first intermission, members of CCYHA Special Hockey as well as Ohio Sled Hockey were featured on the ice as well during short scrimmages. Both programs provide children and adults who have developmental disabilities with the opportunity to play ice hockey in an environment adapted to each athlete’s level of physical and mental ability.