UTICA — USA Blind Hockey and the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI) announced a partnership on Wednesday that will bring the country’s first blind hockey team to the area.
The first USA Blind Hockey training camp will be held Wednesday through Saturday, July 18-21, at the Whitestown Community Center.
The first three days of training camp will not be open to the public, but the USA Blind Hockey Team will play a preseason game against a team of local hockey players from the professional, collegiate and high school levels at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 21, at the Whitestown Community Center rink.
Tickets for that exhibition game will be $7, and all proceeds will benefit USA Blind Hockey. Fans also will be able to meet the players after that game.
In April, CABVI Vice President of Rehabilitation Kathy Beaver and Utica College hockey co-captain Zach Borsoi attended the 14th Annual Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival in Chicago, where players who were deaf/hard of hearing, warrior/standing amputee, and blind/visually imparied were welcome to participate.
Both were motivated by that event to bring USA Blind Hockey to the Utica area.
"Since we work closely with Utica College and their hockey team, I was curious to see how individuals who are blind and visually impaired played hockey," Beaver said. "When Zach Borsoi, Utica College’s hockey co-captain, and I attended the festival, we were both very intrigued by how well the athletes played the game."
After returning to Utica, Beaver and her team worked diligently on a proposal to bring the first USA Blind Hockey training camp Central New York. After a month of preparation, the proposal was submitted to the board of directors for USA Hockey.
"We knew we needed a training camp that encompassed every aspect about being a blind and visually impaired athlete," said Michael Svac, USA Blind Hockey general manager and head coach. "CABVI offered the rehabilitation side of things that we were missing with other organizations."
Starting July 18, members of Svac's team will be in the area to play hockey, learn how to orientate themselves in the locker room and on the ice, and how to represent a national team.
According to USA Hockey, Blind Hockey is the same exhilarating, fast-paced sport as ice hockey with only one main difference – all of the players are legally blind. Typically, totally blind athletes play goal or defense; lower-sighted athletes play defense; and higher-sighted athletes play forward.
The most significant modification is that 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 percent vision or less – to totally blind.
Custom three-foot high nets are used to keep the puck low and near the ice so it can make noise and be tracked aurally. Teams must complete one pass in the attacking zone prior to being able to score – this provides the low vision defense and goalie an extra opportunity to track the puck.
An on-ice official uses a different whistle to indicate that a pass has been completed and the attacking team is eligible to score.
Blind Hockey has been played in Canada since the early 1970s. The sport was first played in the U.S. on October 18, 2014 with the first Blind Hockey Summit in Newburgh. At the 2015 USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival in Buffalo, Blind Hockey was introduced to the rest of the Disabled Hockey Community.