How has life with hockey led you to Team USA?
“Hockey started a long time ago for me, and it was a family thing. Our family was hockey. My sons played, I played. But in 1998, I went from everything to nothing with my vision, lost it in one day. My family and I, we regrouped, and I told my boys, nothing stops, we continue life as it is. You continue playing hockey – they wanted to quit, so they could take care of me. I said no, we continue our life as we know it. We battled as a family, we figured all that out, and both my boys continued to play hockey. I am so proud of them; my oldest played all the way through to the AHL and my youngest played through college. Hockey is what we did. I watched hockey the best I could, but I thought man, this is it, I missed it. I’m done playing. I tried it a couple times with a regular puck, skating on the ice…I just didn’t feel it. I thought that part of my life was gone.”
“A few years ago, though, they had a ‘try blind hockey’ event in Colorado Springs. I said to myself, this sounds awesome – I want to try being a goalie. Borrowed a friend’s gear, and I had a great time. Craig Fitzpatrick and Doug Goist were there, and they said, man, you have to come to Chicago; there is going to be a whole festival with a bunch of blind hockey teams. It sounded like fun to me - 90 blind people playing hockey, count me in. There was a tryout at the festival and just like that, I’m a part of something big…I’m on Team USA.”
What does Blind Hockey mean to you?
“Over 20 years ago, something I enjoyed immensely was gone, other than watching it. And even when I watch it, the way my vision works, I can see only one player. So I just focus on one player and figure out what’s going on by how he reacts. I just had to learn how to watch it a whole new way. The way I think about it, blindness is my eyes is not a disability. I see it as a tremendous inconvenience at times, but there’s not much you can’t do if you allow yourself to just do it. If you choose to try things blind, and you do it in a way that is obviously safe, for you and for others, why not try it, whatever it is? That’s how I felt about trying blind hockey.”
“I had no idea what to expect going into [the disabled hockey festival in Chicago] and I struggled my first game. Both my boys said something amazing to me after that game, something that really reminded me why I was there. They told me, ‘don’t let playing good make you happy. Be happy that you ARE playing.’ You should have a smile on your face just because you are going out there playing hockey. Which I do, but I was looking at it a bit backwards, I was trying to be the best. But my boys put it in good perspective – I’m 60 years old and I’m out here playing hockey. Blind hockey! If you go on the ice thinking you have to play well to be happy, you won’t play well. Go out there and think, look at what I’m doing. Look what I can do, and that should be your joy. The next day I did that, and I thought I had a phenomenal tryout. I went back to my room and I knew I left it all out there and played it as hard as I could. In my world I do things because I enjoy it, but I also want to set an example for people to say, hey, I can do that too. And that’s really what blind hockey means to me; doing something I love and setting that example.”
What does being a member of Team USA mean to you?
“When they called my name, it was a bigger than life moment. As a child, I played sports, but I never excelled at anything. I was a little guy most of my life. But having that moment where I was selected for something that big, it was something in my life I will never forget, and I will never take lightly. To have the opportunity to represent our country, and be a part of this team and the people and everything that goes with it, deep in my heart it’s always going to mean so much.”
“All of a sudden to have the opportunity to play hockey, and have that explode into being on Team USA…it’s still almost incomprehensible. I look back it sometimes and all I can say to myself is wow, it’s crazy to think of the path and how quickly everything happened. It’s something that has changed me a lot; I am so grateful for all the people that have helped me along this journey. Everyone who has done so much to help me try to excel, I feel like I’m carrying them with me on the ice and I want to make them proud of me because they helped me so much.”
Who is your hockey hero in your life?
"My family, my wife and my sons. I have five grandkids now, the oldest is 5, and he’s one of my biggest fans. Doris Donley, who started the whole thing, she’s so awesome. Kevin Conners, a friend of the family, he grew up with my boys and played hockey. He was there every day for me after I lost my eyesight; he’s that type of person. He helped out with the Visionaries; he wanted to be a part of it. He was always giving me a hard time for my old goalie gear. One day, he walks in and just says, you tell me what you want or I’m just going to buy you what you need. I said, no, you don’t need to do that. The next day, I had a brand new chest protector and a brand new pair of pants. He’s made sure we’ve had coaches at every Visionaries practice that we’ve had…he’s just an incredible young man. He just wants to help all of us play the game that we all love. Doris’ son Kline Donley, he’s been one of the main people on the ice training with me. He’s been a huge part of helping me train. Matt Zaba, his business is goalie coaches. He played pro goalie in the Rangers organization, and all of his coaches that would help me - actually the leg pads I play in are his from his last pro season!”
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.
|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|