Minnesota Hockey Journal

February 2019

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M H J O N L I N E . C O M | F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 9 22 Photos / Elizabeth Boger s soon as Mike Hutchens laces his skates and steps out onto the ice, he listens carefully to the noises around him. Over the sounds of coaches shouting drills and volunteers pounding their sticks onto the ice to help guide fellow players—Hutchens is focused on the clank- ing of a loud, metal puck gliding toward him. Though he's without his sight, the 33-year- old Mankato native relies heavily on the echo of his voice and the sounds on the ice to serve as his guide. Hockey is still new to Hutchens. But as one of 18 registered players in Minnesota's first-ever blind hockey program, the sport is quickly becoming one of his favorite pastimes. "This is so cool," Hutchens said. "I took up skating last year. I decided to try it and I love it." The Minnesota Wild Blind Hockey pro- gram, presented by UBS Financial Services, was launched as a partnership between Minnesota Hockey and the Minnesota Wild. The first practice was held in October 2018. Like Hutchens, skaters of all ages, skill levels and visual impairments participate in weekly ice sessions, while learning the basics of skating and hockey. Few adaptations are made to the game, but the biggest difference is the puck. It's large— the size of a dinner plate—and slower than a traditional hockey puck. "It's all about sound," Hutchens said as he shot the puck into the net during practice. "There are ball bearings inside these pucks and they roll around inside the metal." Toni Gillen, Minnesota Hockey's Disabled Hockey Director, can't help but smile as she stands inside the loud rink. Players are getting their chance to live a dream, thanks to countless individuals who made the program possible. "Our volunteers and our coaches are so committed to this," Gillen said. "I'm blessed. Completely blessed." Minnesota Hockey and the Minnesota Wild introduce the state's first official blind hockey team b y E L I Z A B E T H B O G E R A VISION

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