One thing to know about blind hockey: it’s unapologetically loud.
Instead of a rubber puck that glides silently across the floor or ice, hockey players with visual impairment use a larger metal puck filled with eight ball bearings. When it moves, you can hear it – and that’s the point.
Nick McCummings, the assistant coach of the Hartford Braillers (a blind hockey team based in Connecticut) and the disabled hockey representative for Massachusetts, is used to the noise. On a Wednesday in January, he shouted instructions over the din as nine Perkins School for the Blind students practiced their passing skills in the gym.
“Hit your stick on the floor so your partner knows where you want the puck,” McCummings said. “Nice and loud, that’s it!”
McCummings was on campus for a two-part workshop designed to introduce students in the Secondary Program to the world of blind hockey. For the first hour, he led the students through a series of drills, including hockey stance, puck and stick handling and passing. Since many students couldn’t see the puck, McCummings explained how to handle it by feel.
“When it’s in the middle of the blade, it feels a lot heavier than when it’s rolling off the blade,” he said. “Do you guys feel that?”
For the last half hour, McCummings broke the students up into teams for a scrimmage. Roger, 21, and Melissa, 18, volunteered to play goal, which required periodically shouting the name of the opposing team, so they knew where the goal was located. Listening to the shouts of her teammates and the clang of the puck, Izzy, 19, charged the opposing goal, scoring the red team’s first point.
“This is awesome,” she said.
For many students who are blind, hockey isn’t a sport they imagine themselves playing.
“They heard ‘hockey’ and a couple of them were definitely intimidated,” said Adapted Physical Education teacher Megan O’Connell-Copp. “But Nick broke down the skills and they caught on and literally ran with it. That was fun to see.”
McCummings, who started out coaching youth hockey before moving into adapted versions of the sport, who like to see more individuals with visual impairment give the sport a try. As USA hockey builds its national team, he’s hoping younger players – like the Perkins students – will get involved.
“Most people would say there’s no possible way a blind person could play hockey,” he said. “But blind hockey is just like any other hockey, it’s all the same thing. Hockey is hockey.”