Sports

/

ArcaMax

For this team of the Blues Blind Hockey Club, there's freedom and fun on the ice

Tom Timmermann, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Hockey

Eric Kaiser bumps into a lot of things.

Kaiser suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that is gradually taking away his eyesight. He has tunnel vision, and the tunnel keeps getting smaller and smaller. It’s worse at night, when he can only see shapes.

“I have walked into many things,” he said. “Me and those ‘Caution Wet Floor’ signs, we do not get along at all.”

Once a week, though, he has a chance to break free. Kaiser is a member of the St. Louis Blues Blind Hockey Club, a four-year old group consisting of players who are legally blind. For the players, the time on the ice is magical.

“I can go as fast as I want,” said Kaiser, 25. “The most freeing moment is when I’m going as fast as I possibly can, the wind going through my cage. It’s when I feel like I’m back to being me.”

“I feel like I can push everything aside and focus on the game,” said Seyoon Choi, a junior at St. Louis University. “Typically mainstreamed sports we try to play, even high school cross country, had to make lot of modifications and adaptations, and it takes a steep curve to climb up to proficiency to compete against the sighted crowd, while blind hockey, all the players are blind, we have the same kind of challenges and we still skate at different skill levels and you get that game and competition going.”

 

The club, one of 17 around the nation, most in NHL cities, will be the host this week for USA Hockey’s Blind Hockey Classic at Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights, with blind players from around the nation, including players on the U.S. national blind team and Canada’s blind team. Few clubs have enough players to field a full team – the St. Louis club has 10 or 11 on most days – so players from various clubs will be mixed to make teams.

Blind hockey still looks like hockey, which is one of the things its players like best. The most noticeable difference is the puck, which is about twice the size of a standard puck, is made of metal and has eight ball bearings inside so it makes noise when it moves, allowing players to track it even if they can’t see it. Attacking players are required to make one pass after they cross the blueline before taking a shot, a rule designed to give goalies a chance. And, in a rule which seems weird at first, the goalies play blindfolded, which ensures that all goalies are equal.

The players on the Blues club came to the sport without any ice hockey experience – Kaiser had played roller hockey – and in many cases little or no skating experience, so their education starts at the beginning. That adds to the challenge for the coaches, who can’t avail themselves of the most common teaching technique.

“As a coach coaching youth hockey,” said Jeff Vann, who helped start the club and works with the players on ice, “you tell them what to do, demonstrate it, then have them do it. You can’t really demonstrate it. You have to be able to tell them what to do and use very specific commands and explain it.”

...continued

swipe to next page
©2021 STLtoday.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.