HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Athletes from across the Northeast were at Twin Ponds East ice rink for the National Blind Hockey Northeast Regional Tournament Saturday.
“I had an ATV accident when I was nine and it left me totally blind,” said T.J. Stewart, a player from Connellsville who was at the tournament.
Being blind doesn’t stop the 23-year-old from playing the sport he loves. He’s a goalie, and he’s good.
Stewart is competing with players from Pittsburgh, New York, Washington D.C., Connecticut and Maine.
“It’s a big deal to get blind and visually impaired people to travel, so we wanted to make it as convenient as possible, so it’s kind of like a central location for everybody,” said Ted Caputo, the president of New York Metro Blind Hockey.
All of the athletes are legally blind. Their vision range determines their position on the ice.
“The people that are totally blind, they’re usually our goalies and then people with a little more sight are defense, and then people with more sight are offense,” said Caputo.
An adaptive hockey puck is significantly larger and louder than a typical hockey puck.
“It’s a metal puck and it has eight ball bearings in it,” said Stewart.
“The large size helps people who are visually impaired track it across the ice and the people with very limited sight, they go off the sound,” said Caputo.
Before you can shoot on the goalie, you have to make a pass.
“When they make that pass, the referee will set off the pass whistle,” said Stewart.
Communication is key in blind hockey.
“They will be saying, ‘to your left, to your left, to your left,’ and that’s how he kind of tracks, along with the sound of the puck,” said Caputo.
Stewart encourages anyone with visual impairments to try the growing sport.
“Even if you have a different disability, you can overcome anything as long as you try,” said Stewart.
Organizers say the goal is to get blind hockey recognized by the Paralympics by 2026.