The sport of Blind Hockey has been enjoyed in Canada for over 40 years, but has yet to make it to the United States. Despite the fact there are dozens of stories of legally blind hockey players participating in traditional hockey across America, no one has brought the adapted game to the USA—until now.
Courage USA, a newly formed organization that follows in the footsteps of Courage Canada, the highly successful Canadian charity, hosted its first-ever Blind Ice Hockey summit and game recently in Newburgh, NY.
The blind community is often associated with white canes, guide dogs, and dark glasses, but when 25 visually impaired hockey players from across New York, Vermont, and Montreal, Canada took to the ice recently, they traded them in for skates, hockey sticks, and large adapted sound pucks that emit a sound. That’s because Courage USA Ice Hockey for the Blind is bent on bringing this fast-growing parasport branch to the U.S., with the first step being their Courage USA Blind Ice Hockey Summit.
“I was playing in a men’s league in Indianapolis and was frustrated trying to follow the regular puck with my limited vision,” says Courage USA co-founder and president, Kevin Shanley. “I went online to see if anyone had tried to invent a hockey puck for the blind and found out not only that it existed, but there was an entire hockey league in Canada just for the blind and visually impaired. Two weeks later, I was on a plane [to compete] at the 2013 Courage Canada National Blind Hockey Tournament. What an amazing experience.”
Upon returning home, Shanley moved to New York near another legally blind player, Christine Osika, who had previously interned for Courage Canada in 2013. Together they founded America’s first team for the blind, the New York Nightshades. They were the only two Americans who competed at the 2014 Courage Canada National Blind Hockey Tournament, and had tremendous success as both won gold while playing for Team West, with Osika racking up 12 points in 4 games and being awarded Rookie of the Year.
“I absolutely loved my first experience playing [the game],” says Osika. “I have played hockey my entire life, and was able to intern with Courage Canada three years ago while I was in school. I know all the amazing things they do for kids and adults who are blind or visually impaired, and that’s what we’re trying to bring to America with the sister organization, Courage USA Ice Hockey for the Blind.”
The recent Courage USA Ice Hockey for the Blind Summit was the official launch of this exciting new parasport in the U.S. The event featured the first 10 American blind players from the Hudson Valley, Staten Island, and Utica areas of New York state, and Vermont. Additionally, Canada’s oldest program—Les Hiboux (French for “The Owls”), from Montreal, Canada—were to send 13 players down to participate in skill development drills, information sessions, and two friendly games.
Also scheduled to be in attendance were Courage Canada founder Mark DeMontis and Executive Director Matt Morrow, who lead the summit. Courage Canada began as a kitchen-table charity in 2008 and has since grown to become a national respected hockey charity that provides programs to 500 children and adults annually who are visually impaired.
“When we started, we had a dream to teach kids who were blind to skate and to help organize the various Blind Ice Hockey teams across Canada,” said DeMontis. “Six years later, we have national championships where we’re expecting close to 100 players from across the country, in addition to the sport expanding into the USA. We have long-term goals of World Championships and even the Paralympics, so having Courage USA is a fantastic next step. I’m confident Kevin and Christine are the right people to bring [the organization] to the USA, and we’re just really excited to work together.”
The sport features an adapted puck that produces sound, 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 defense or goal.
The Courage Canada National Blind Hockey Tournament is the only tournament of its kind in the world, and was scheduled to take place February 13-15, 2015 in Toronto, Canada. Both Courage USA co-founders were to again be competing, and they hoped this summit will spur interest and help recruit a few more players to represent the Red, White and Blue.
For more information, contact Courage USA Co-Founder & Vice-President Christine Osika at courageUSAhockey@gmail.com, or by phone at 845-234-1650. Courage Canada Executive Director Matt Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 604-812-6786. courageusa.org/blind-hockey/blind-hockey-the-sport/; in Canada, www.couragecanada.ca