Blind Hockey is the same exhilarating, fast-paced game that gets spectators out of their seats with only one main difference – all of the players are legally blind! 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, with the lowest vision athletes playing defence or goal. 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:
- Face-offs begin with the puck on the ice and the players may only touch it on the referee’s whistle – this makes it a competition of reaction time and does not favour the player with the most vision.
- Goals may only be scored in the bottom 3 feet of the net – the adapted Blind Hockey puck does not currently make noise in the air and it is unfair to the goalie to score in the top of the net.
- Teams must complete one pass prior to being able to score in the attacking half of the rink – this provides both the low vision defence and the goalie an extra opportunity to track the puck.
- 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 – A Proud Canadian History
The sport of Blind Hockey has existed in various forms across Canada for over 40 years since the founding of the Toronto Ice Owls Blind Hockey Team in 1972. The sport has been played at times in many cities including Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Sudbury, Renfrew and Ottawa, and has provided countless Canadians who are blind or visually impaired with the opportunity to play Canada’s favorite game, along with all the social, mental, emotional, and physical health benefits of belonging to a hockey team.
Historically however, there has been very little interaction between Blind Hockey teams, with no central organization to govern, support and coordinate the development of the sport. Teams typically played primarily amongst themselves or against sighted teams, with occasional games between regional rivals, but with absolutely no organized tournaments.
Because of this, the regional games developed independent from one another, each game adapted its own set of rules, and each game used a different adapted puck. This made it nearly impossible to play with one another, and ultimately many of the programs folded over time. By 2009, the sport was only played in four cities – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary – and both Vancouver and Calgary barely had enough players to sustain their programs: in short, the sport was dwindling and something had to be done.
Blind Hockey – Resurgence and Evolution
In 2010, Courage Canada sponsored the Toronto Ice Owls to travel to Montreal and play an exhibition series against the Hiboux de Montreal at the annual Defi Sportif multi-sport tournament. The event marked the first time in many years that two Canadian Blind Hockey teams played each other, however the exhibition series had its challenges as Montreal and Toronto had greatly different sets of rules, and used two totally different adapted pucks. As a compromise, half of the games were played with Montreal rules and puck, while the other half were played with the Toronto rules and puck. This left a less than ideal framework for developing the sport, but did provide a foundation on which to grow.
At that 2010 Defi Sportif, Courage Canada, Canadian Blind Sports, and representatives from the Montreal Hiboux, Toronto Ice Owls, and Vancouver Eclipse held a Blind Hockey summit to discuss the state of the game in each city, and create a plan to develop the sport moving forward. From this meeting, the idea for the first ever Canadian National Blind Hockey Tournament was born and scheduled for the 2011 Defi Sportif in Montreal.
Courage Canada was instrumental in bringing together the fragmented Canadian Blind Hockey Community. Through a series of work groups, surveys and conference calls, Courage Canada helped assimilate the best parts of the different sets of rules, and negotiate an agreement as to which adapted puck would become the tournament standard, paving the way for the first ever Blind Hockey tournament. Over the last three years under the guidance of Courage Canada, from the Toronto vs Montreal exhibition series in 2010 to the 2nd annual Canadian Blind Hockey Tournament in Quebec City in 2012, Blind Hockey has truly grown from local game to a national sport. The 2013 Courage Canada National Blind Hockey Tournament promises to be the next step in this evolution.