Saturday, February 20, 2016, Kettler Iceplex hosted “Try Blind Hockey” on the Washington Capitals ice rink. The event was presented with the help of USA Hockey as part of Hockey is For Everyone Month. As the Capitals explained, the event was “intended to expose visually impaired players of all ages to hockey.”
About Blind Hockey
USA Blind Hockey has its roots in Courage USA. Founded in September 2014, Courage USA, with its sister organization, Courage Canada Hockey for the Blind, hope to develop and expand the rapidly growing Parasport of blind or visually impaired hockey. Since 2008, Courage Canada Hockey has been teaching children and youth learn to skate and Try Blind Ice Hockey. Currently there are seven Canadian blind hockey teams. The participants vision ranges for 10 percent vison to totally blind. Started in the mid-70s in Canada, some of the differences in blind hockey compared to a regular hockey game are:
- Goals can be scored only on the bottom half of the net because the goalies are legally blind and pucks don’t make noise in the air.
- The puck they use an adapted puck that makes constant noise, is both bigger and slower than a traditional puck, made of hollow steel and contains eight ball bearings.
- The partially blind can see the bigger puck and those who are completely blind can hear the puck.
Courage USA hopes to mirror the efforts of the Canadian league to make blind hockey an international sport. If you would like to help support USA Hockey and blind hockey, please check out their web page at www.usahockeyfoundation.com
Brendan Friedrich and Blind Hockey
When we heard that it was Try Blind Hockey Day at Kettler, we were intrigued to learn how someone who is blind plays hockey. Before the Blind Hockey program began, we were watching Caps practice and we met a young man named Brendan who was there to not only try blind hockey, but get the VIP treatment from the Capitals, including meeting his favorite player (and mine) Braden Holtby!
Brendan was standing next to the FICP crew by the glass as the Caps started to skate out. We introduced ourselves and then starting telling him who was skating past him and his family. Brendan himself is blind but you wouldn’t know that from his enthusiastic responses on hearing that Holtby was out on the ice and taking shots from players at the other end of the rink for early goalie practice.
Next thing we knew, Brendan was being interviewed by Scott Abraham of Channel 7 ABC News. Before we could get anymore descriptions on who was out there to Brendan, he was whisked over to meet with Caps radio broadcaster John Walton on the other side of the rink. From there we saw Brendan and his family smile the whole time he was watching thru the glass, hearing the pucks hitting the glass right in front of him. You could see he was yelling at that player to shoot harder!
After Caps practice was over, Brendan and his family were taken to the locker room to meet Braden Holtby and get not only a jersey signed by Holtby but a real game used Holtby goalie stick including one for his brother. Braden Holtby proving once again, he is a class act! If you haven’t seen the video of Brendan’s meeting with Holtby, go watch it now. It’s such a great moment for everyone!
Blind Hockey at Kettler
Following practice, the Capitals rink was resurfaced and it was time for Try Blind Hockey. Watching all the skaters being led by volunteers was an unbelievable experience and the main reason I came to Kettler for the day. The Caps holding a practice beforehand was icing on the cake. The best part of watching Try Blind Hockey was the volunteers who were genuinely excited to be there and help out people on the ice. There was one young man who was having some trouble figuring out how to get his feet to move on the ice with the skates on and the volunteer got down on his knees on the cold ice to help move his feet for him. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had and I can’t wait to get more involved in these parts of the hockey community.
As for Brendan, after skating he moved into the broadcast booth, where he’s most comfortable to do a little announcing and to get warmed up for his debut later that night with Wes Johnson at Verizon center to announce the caps on to the ice for warmups!! Our thanks to Patrick McDermott of the Washington Capitals for sharing these photos of Brendan in the booth with Wes.
Well done Brendan!! And you were good luck for the Caps to comeback and beat the NJ Devils 4-3 We were so thankful to meet Brendan and we look forward to following Brendan and his career as an announcer!
Go Caps!! As Brendan would yell!!
By Mel Abernethy
Photos by Mel and Brittney, except where noted.