Collingwood’s Eddie Bush Memorial Arena is home to hundreds of hockey games every year, but a game held Saturday afternoon sets itself apart.
The Toronto Ice Owls Blind Hockey Club took to the rink on Saturday afternoon. The team features players of all ages and genders who are vision-impaired.
“To be out there, first of all, it’s a great support group,” says Randy Banks, one of the players who organized Saturday’s game in Collingwood. “This is probably one of the fastest games you’re going to see for blind people. It’s amazing what they do for these guys and girls; it’s absolutely fantastic.”
All 18 of the players on the Ice Owls have 10 percent vision or less. The team’s two goalies are entirely blind, a stipulation in league regulations.
That rule for the goalies is one of only a few differences from a traditional hockey game, including a modified puck.
“It’s four times bigger than a regular puck, and it has ball bearings in it, so that makes it easy for us to track it and our nets are a little bit smaller than traditional nets; they are only three feet high,” says Banks. . “Other than that, all the rules to regular hockey apply.”
Banks, a lifelong Collingwood resident, decided to bring the team on the road Saturday to increase awareness while also raising funds for the Hospice Georgian Triangle Foundation. A 50/50 draw was held, with a goal of more than $ 10,000.
“It means so much to the people at Hospice Georgian Triangle, the patients and their families,” says Sandra Sullivan, the foundation’s executive director. “Because of this money, we can provide compassionate, end-of-life care as well as community programming including grief and bereavement support for families who have lost loved ones.”
The team is part of the Canadian Blind Hockey Association. The league gives these players a chance to once again play the game they all share a passion for.
“I started playing the game when I was a kid when I had my full eyesight and stopped for a number of years,” says David Brown, one of the two goalies on the Ice Owls. “I found the Ice Owls Hockey Team and realized that yes, I can still play the game I love, so it’s great to get back into it, get out there and have a lot of fun.”
While he acknowledges the challenges that come with playing, including listening to the puck, he says it’s given him back so much.
“It’s great for a person’s self-esteem because you get out there, you’re doing something that’s a national sport, everyone can relate to it, you have meaningful conversations with all your family, friends, relatives and it’s such an important part for a well-balanced life, “says Brown.
The team is looking to recruit new members, saying many may be unaware it even exists.
“You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it, and all these players out here have a passion for playing hockey, and they’ve decided to step up and take the challenge,” says Banks. “We do have the odd collision, but otherwise, everyone’s just out here to have some fun and play the game we love.”