For the first time, a Canadian national team and an American national team of blind hockey squared off, a major step in the road to bring this sport to the Paralympic Games.
From October 12th to 14th, players from many provinces have won a best-of-3 series against opponents from the United States in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
But victory was not the only goal here: it was rather an opportunity to test and show the game level of 2 national sport teams.
“It’s great, because hockey is our national sport”, says Bruno Haché, a member of the Canadian team and a Paralympics goalball athlete.
Blind hockey has been played since the 1970’s in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. After its rules were standardized in 2010, it was introduced to the U.S. in 2014.
Now that Americans have 8 competitive teams, representatives from Blind Hockey Canada hope to help observers from Finland and the United Kingdom establish the sport in Europe.
“So next, we can have a 3 or 4-nation competition, let’s say in 2020, then a world championship with 6 countries, maybe in 2022 and finally, games at the 2026 Paralympics, either as a formal sport or a demonstrative event”, says François Beauregard, vice-president of Blind Hockey Canada and most senior member of the Canadian team.
Inspire the youth
Bringing blind hockey to the Paralympic Games is important because the Games would increase its notoriety, but more importantly, encourage the youth to play the sport and persevere in it.
“Seeing a sport being played on a highly competitive level gives a kid or a teenager the desire to improve, in hopes to, one day, join a local team or represent their country” Beauregard says.
Ask Haché about it. He represented Canada in 4 Paralympic Games, as a member of the national goalball selection.
Thanks to that sport, he successfully competed on an international level after thinking he would not go far with sports, because of the loss of his eyesight at the age of 18.
“It was a shock. I stopped all physical activities. I though sports were over for me”, Haché remembers.
“But at some point, I heard of blind hockey, got back in shape and, upon showing my competitive spirit, was told about goalball. My dreams shot up right then”, he continues.
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How to play
In competitive blind hockey, skaters have a visual impairment and a classification evaluated by an eye care professional.
They are classed B1, B2 or B3, B1 indicating a vision of around 0%, B2 a vision of around 5% or less and B3 a vision of 10% or less.
The puck is made out of steel with bearing inside, producing noise when hit and is larger, as well as slower than a rubber puck.
The goals are slightly lower than the ones in regular hockey. Before attempting a shot, players must complete a pass in the attacking half of the rink.
Line-ups must follow a point system which ensures a fair game based on skills, not level of sight.
B1 is 1 point, B2 is 2 points and B3, 3 points. A team must have 13 points on the ice at all time.