Earlier this year, we caught up with Matt Morrow, Executive Director of Canaadian Blind Hockey to learn about Blind Ice Hockey.
“Blind Ice Hockey has been played in Canada since the 1970s. The Toronto Ice Owls had their 45th anniversary last season but it was never organised at a national level. Teams played using different adapted pucks and different rules. “It was in 2010 that the leadership of the three main clubs got together and decided to have a meeting and say we need to get this sport on the same page. That was the turning point for the sport going from being a recreational game to an actual para sport.,” said Morrow.
“Four years ago we started working with some American players to try to bring the sport down to the States (USA) and at that point we formed the International Blind Ice Hockey Federation with the goal of creating the World Championships and maybe one day competing in the Paralympic Games.”
Morrow explained there are six major blind hockey events which take place every year in North America.
Morrow highlighted how the sport receives some support from NHL teams, but he hopes to strengthen these relationships in the future.
He explained: “Recently we’ve done a lot of stuff with the NHL Hockey is for everyone initiative. In terms of generating awareness. Other than that, it’s on a club by club basis. Some of the clubs really do have tremendous support. Probably the best one is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They fund their blind hockey team. The Chicago blind hockey team get ice time donated and some other things. The Washington team get some ice time donated. We’re trying to build these relationships and access more funding that way.”
When asked about his hopes for the future of the sport, Morrow said: “Sometime in the next year we’ll probably have the first ever USA v Canada match. From that point there we’re really hoping to spurn interest and some European nations starting teams. We want to have a four nations cup in 2020 and ultimately see if we can get enough people on board to have a World Championships and apply for the Paralympic games.”
How the game is played
Blind Hockey is played by visually impaired players who must be classified as eligible in one of the three International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) classifications ranging from B1 to B3.
B1 players have the least vision, while B3 players have the most vision. The game is played using custom three-foot high nets rather than the traditional four- 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 after the blue line in the attacking zone prior to being able to score– this provides both the low vision defence and the goalie an extra opportunity to track the puck.
The game is played with standard International Ice Hockey Federation safety protocols including no-touch icing, and crease violations to ensure utmost player safety and all players must wear full protective gear including face mask.
Morrow, said: “All players are legally blind, your forwards tend to be B3s who have the most vision, they go up and down the ice it just looks like traditional hockey. The defensemen sometimes have less vision or are totally blind and some of them choose to stay at their own end to protect the front of the net and that way they don’t get disorientated and they also have the goalie to communicate with. The goalies have extremely low vision or are completely blind and they wear blindfolds just to make sure it’s fair.”
Pictures courtesy of Canadian Blind Hockey, with thanks.