“Blind hockey is almost identical to what you see on an NHL team,” said head coach Michael Svac. “There’s slight variations in terms of how we play the game; there’s some rule changes around safety, but probably the biggest change you’ll notice is the puck.”
This puck is made of metal, and nearly twice the diameter of a regular hockey puck. It’s also filled with ball bearing so the players can use their hearing to help locate it.
Blind hockey has been played in Canada for decades it’s only become an organized sport in the U.S. in the past 10 years.
“It was kind of a dream come true to find an opportunity to play organized hockey again that wasn’t just a pickup league,” said Captain Tim Kane. “Not only that but to be able to find a community that I was never really a part of before blind hockey came to the U.S.”
Kane lives in Michigan and like the rest of the players on the ice he traveled to Blaine to practice and play with the team.
“I actually started losing my vision when i was 15. I have Stargardt macular degeneration, and I lost 90% of my vision – i went from 20/20 acuity to 20/200 in about four months,” said Kane.
At that point Kane had already been playing hockey for 10 years.
“I continued to play even after the vision loss. [I played] sighted hockey all through high school, and I played a year of club hockey in college. I never really let it stop me from doing anything.
But Kane’s experience is not the typical experience of a blind hockey player.
“Most of our players have never skated before so we start off and get you on the skates teach you the game and build you to be the athlete you can be,” said Svac.
Now this team is training to hopefully compete in the Paralympics.
“I think that’s probably the pinnacle of every para sport is to be recognized by an international community,” said Kane.
It’s not a Paralympic sport just yet, but they think it could be in the next couple of years. The sport needs a few more countries to compete for it to happen.
“We’re still training as it’s going to be 2026, but realistically 2030 would be the best opportunity,” said Svac.
In the midst of training, the team is also trying to grow the sport.
“From a local perspective, the idea is to really get as many blind and visually impaired people involved in as many sports as we can. That entire community tends to be a little underprivileged when it comes to physical activity and organized sport opportunities,” said Kane.
“We want people to talk about it because most folks with a disability may not know these opportunities are there for them,” said Svac.