by Eliza McGraw

At first glance it would look like any other weekend at an ice rink, but there are harnessed guide dogs navigating through the crowd, some skaters wearing sunglasses or using white canes, and people using names in their greetings: “Hi, its Matt.” They are there to ty a new sport: Blind Hockey.
A typical event includes a group skate and a demonstration game to increase awareness and recruit new players. Some take offered right-angled arms or carry canes to tap on the wall as they go. Some skate with their guide dogs who slide around the ice wearing protective bootees.

Blind hockey looks a lot like standard hockey. Players swoon around the ice passing a puck with the goal of slinging it into a net. But it sounds very different. The adapted puck – a hollow metal canister filled with ball bearings, nearly twice the size of a regular puck – rattles across the surface, clanging like a bunch of cowbells when a hard shot sends it into the boards. Skaters find the puck by listening for it.

Before play begins, teammates guide goalies – who typically have the least vision on the team – to their nets, which are slightly smaller than regulation. Players have to complete one pass before taking shots on net, which helps alert the goalie and other defenders of an approaching puck.

A referee uses a special electronic whistle to signal when a pass has been completed. Hockey by its nature is in a confined space. Boards and glass confine the sound and that helps players adapt. The USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival is scheduled for April in West Dundee, Illinois. “There’s nothing a blind person can’t do. Except maybe see,” Molchan says.

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