Feature Story                                                                                                    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

                     

Ice Cold Courage

Blind Hockey a big hit with Chilliwack kids

Staff/Voice photos

 

Matt Morrow (L) uses an oversized puck to teach hockey skills to a visually impaired youth last Friday at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack.

 

hen Matt Morrow, Executive Director with Courage Canada, hands you his business card, the first thing you notice is not the big maple leaf printed on it, but how it feels in your hand. That's because it's in Braille.

 

In a first for Chilliwack, eleven kids with visual impairments from School District #33 had the chance to lace up for some ice time with Chiefs players last Friday courtesy of Courage Canada Hockey For The Blind Inc. and Prospera Centre.

 

Courage Canada, which is based out of Toronto, formed a partnership with the BC Blind Sports Association and the Canadian Blind Sports Association to provide 30 skating field trips across Canada this year for kids who are blind and partially sighted.

 

Morrow talks candidly about his boss, Mark J. DeMontis, the architect of Courage Canada.

 

"Our president played AAA hockey and his dream was to play in the NCAA but he lost his vision at the age of 17 and that's what got him to found Courage Canada Hockey for the Blind," he said.

 

The program takes kids from kindergarten through grade 12. They mix the age groups hoping the older kids mentor the younger ones.

 

"Some have never skated before, this is an absolute blast for them," explained Morrow. "Some of them are excellent skaters and they're going to be trying Blind Hockey real soon."

 

The game uses an "adaptive puck". It's bigger, slower and makes noise so players know where it is on the ice.

 

Morrow says many kids don't have a concept of the basics, and so the clinics teach that. For example; they'll learn about the arena, the boards and glass, the ice etc.

 

"We explain all that and then we go out and we have a fun hour where we try skating and Blind Hockey," he said.

 

Morrow, who played recreational hockey the night before, is zipping off to Calgary right after the Chilliwack session, and then on to Red Deer and Edmonton for more Learn to Skate workshops and clinics with kids there.

 

"We're doing two in Calgary because they have so many kids that want to take part," he said.

 

After the on-ice workout, players have a pizza lunch followed by a workshop. This year the theme is the Paralympics and the 2014 Sochi Games.

 

"I think for these kids, the most important thing is that we want them to understand that vision is not a limitation to participating in sport and recreation, or all aspects of society," he said. "A person who's blind or partially sighted can do all the things us sighted people can do, they just maybe need to do them differently."

 

There are identical Courage Canada programs in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.

 

Toronto will be hosting about 65 players from around the country in the annual National Blind Hockey Championships taking place March 21-23, 2014.

 

While the sport of Blind Hockey has not evolved into a Paralympics sport yet, organizers hope to eventually have it sanctioned once there is sufficient interest  and enough players capable of competing at that level.

 

Gail Gilchrist, who spearheaded the movement to bring Blind Hockey to Chilliwack, and Mary Anderson, are School District #33 Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments. They were thrilled Courage Canada brought the program to Prospera Centre. To them, it's all about the camaraderie the sport brings to the community.

 

"There are recreational benefits, but it's also that the kids all get together," Anderson told the Voice. "Socially, it's a chance for families and children to spend time together, and for some students, that in itself is very rewarding because they're all children with visual impairment, so that social part is a huge aspect."

 

Anderson's 14-years-old daughter has Retina Pigmentosa and has steadily been losing her eyesight since birth.

 

 

 

"Some children are low vision," she explains. "That means there are different degrees of vision so some don't have any light perception at all."

 

Earlier in the day, the youngsters had a chance to play Goalball, a Paralympics sport similar to indoor soccer, where the ball is thrown instead of kicked. Players are blindfolded and the ball has bells inside.

 

The two teachers want to put together a local Goalball team, which Anderson says is lots of fun to play.

 

"Gail and I are going to establish one day a week after school to hopefully put together a team, so we're working on that," said Anderson.

 

Chiefs Assistant Coach Doug Ast had some pointers for the kids as they went through on-ice drills. Former Merritt Centennials forward Cameron Campbell, now colour commentator with the team, was out skating with the kids and enjoying himself.

 

Campbell has been involved with the Junior-A Chiefs since 1994. He said he found out about the Courage Canada skate a couple of days prior and didn't need to be asked twice to participate.

 

"We do lots of community stuff with the Chiefs," he said adding "This is the kind of thing we like to do. I think we get more out of it than the kids do."

 

Chiefs goalie Josh Halpenny and rookie player Blake Gober and were also on hand and skating with the kids.

 

Learn more about the Chilliwack Chiefs here.

Connect with Courage Canada at: www.couragecanada.ca

 

See more photos from the Voice below.

Copyright (c) 2013 The Valley Voice

 

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