How has life with hockey led you to Team USA?
“It all started when I was living in Indianapolis, and I was bored. So, I joined an adult co-ed hockey league. Since this was for adults that were learning to play, or even learning to skate, it made sense as I wanted something that wasn’t competitive. I knew I couldn’t see the puck, so I went, and I played defense. I told them look I can’t receive a pass, if I find the puck I can pass it to you, but mostly I can just get in the way on defense. I did that for a little over a year, and it was fun…I had a great time. But this one night in particular, I was really not picking up the puck and I was really frustrated. I went home and started to look online and see if someone had made a blind hockey puck. I had played beep baseball years ago, so if they’ve made a beeping baseball, maybe they’d made a beeping puck? I knew if I brought it to the games people would play with it; I knew they wouldn’t have an issue.”
“I was searching around, and I realized that anything blind hockey I found pointed me to what is now known as Canadian Blind Hockey. They were hosting their first national blind hockey tournament. I was reading about it and I thought, wow, this is really cool. I emailed the tournament director, who I did not know at that time, but I now know is Matt Morrow. I basically just asked, do you have to be Canadian to play? I was looking to possibly get into it in the future. He wrote back, ‘no you don’t have to be Canadian, in fact, I’ve had a couple of cancellations and we have some openings…do you want to play?’ And this was 10 days away. I was like, I have a job, I have a kid…I don’t think I can do this, it’s just too soon. He said ‘well it’s alright, I understand.’ Pitched me on it again, ‘are you sure you don’t want to come?’ I said, I can’t, it’s too soon. He politely wrote back one more time and said, ‘well I totally understand but we are also doing a tour of the hockey hall of fame this year.’ At that point I said, well, what the heck? Ten days later I was in Toronto, playing hockey in the Maple Leaf Gardens.”
“I get there, and Matt tells me he had to bump me up to a bottom line winger. I say, that’s alright, I’ll do what you need me to do. I’ve never played the wing ever. So I’m not even sure where I’m supposed to be. I get to the locker room, and the coach bumps me up so now I’m on left wing for the opening faceoff. Right away, I get slashed, right across my side. I’m like, wow, I have never done anything like this before. I get completely pushed around that whole first shift, I get back on the bench and I’m thinking, I can’t do this, this is freaking crazy. So I went out that second shift, thought to myself there is no way I’m getting pushed around again. I ended up in the penalty box. After that, everything was fine! I didn’t score that tournament, but I got a bunch of assists. My team won bronze and it was fantastic. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to five of those tournaments now. All those guys are my friends and they’ve been able to build up their program to get a national team, and now we are building our program to a national team.”
What does Blind Hockey mean to you?
“Freedom. It’s given me and everyone who has played the sport something to look forward to, the courage and self-confidence to take on new things and embrace life. The thing I really liked about blind hockey was that it really wasn’t modified much. We’re playing real hockey. I enjoyed playing beep baseball, I don’t dislike the sport at all…but it’s not baseball. This IS hockey. I like that everyone’s not blindfolded, the lines are designed to take advantage of the available vision. You have to work as a team to get the job done. I felt that with all of those components, blind hockey had a shot to become popular in the US. It’s really all about playing as a team. If you’re low vision like me, it’s not your job to be the goal scorer. It’s all about playing the best role for your team, and we’ve really marketed the sport more on that front as well, as a team sport.”
What does being a member of Team USA mean to you?
“It’s incredible. People ask me all the time, is this a dream come true for you? I say yes, but really, I’m saying yes because that’s what they expect to hear. The truth is, I never could have dreamt this. Growing up, I watched hockey, professional and Olympics…but I couldn’t even play Mites due to my blindness. It was never even a possibility for me. So to say that this is a dream come true, yes, of course…you get to represent the greatest nation on earth by playing the greatest game on earth, who wouldn’t want to do that? But at the same time, it’s not entirely true because I couldn’t have dreamt it.”
“It’s gone a lot faster than I thought it would have. When I left the tournament in Canada, I thought wow, that was great, I’m so lucky to have that experience in my life, and if that was the end of it…I would have been happy. But the fact that we’ve been able to mature and update the puck, come south of the border and get enough people together to participate in 4 disabled hockey festivals and 5 summits, the fact that we’ve been able to do that is just amazing.”
Who is your hockey hero in your life?
“Bill Hanson – he was my high school physical science teacher, and he was the head hockey coach at Catholic Memorial where I went. At that time in the 90s, Catholic Memorial was the premier high school program in the state, possibly in the country. They won state title after state title; they sent a number of players into the NHL and certainly dozens into the NCAA. He from day 1 took me under his wing, and made sure the hockey team was always looking out for me.”
Help Support USA Blind Hockey's Incredible Inaugural Year!
We are extremely excited that the inaugural year of Team USA Blind Hockey Team has been so successful already! In just a few short months, Team USA has gone from tryouts in April, to a training camp in July, to the FIRST-EVER international competition in October. This tremendous growth wouldn't be possible without out an amazing level of support from our fans, friends and family!
The first-ever games of international blind hockey were played in Pittsburgh in October, as Team USA took on Canada in a 3 game series - check out some of the game action here: International Series Game 2
As we continue to build up the sport of blind hockey in the United States, We need YOUR help to reach our fundraising goal for operating expenses for this first ever team. Our players and coaches have been putting it all on the ice to build this team so quickly, and after one series versus Canada, they are hungry to do battle again. This time, we'll be taking our talents north, as Team USA heads to Canada for the next international competition.
You can help us claim that glory! Your support will give these blind hockey athletes the opportunity to participate and compete in these events. All donations will go directly to the team to help with player transportation, equipment, custom blind hockey pucks, and all the other costs of starting a brand-new team. Let’s help these athletes flourish, and show them that they have our support.
The sport of blind hockey has tripled in size since when it was first implemented at the USA Hockey Disabled Festival in 2016. With your contribution we can help continue to grow the sport of blind hockey across this great nation and as well the world! Blind hockey has shown tremendous momentum in all different parts of the country and we’re incredibly proud of our first Team USA for blind hockey.
Thank you in advance for your support!
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Groups and individuals raising money for the same goal.
|Dark Dining 2019||0||$0|
|Dave Svac - Asst. Coach||0||$0|
|Doris Donley - GM Team Operations||1||$20|
|Ian Essling - Staff||0||$0|
|Kevin Allison - Asst. Coach||0||$0|
|Kline Donley - Asst. Coach||1||$200|
|Malisa Komalarajun - Staff||2||$33|
|Mike Svac - Head Coach/GM Hockey Operations||0||$0|
|Nick Albicocco - Asst. Coach||0||$0|
Mary Jane Shanley