May/June 2019

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PHOTOS: USA HOCKEY MAGAZINE ARCHIVES, ELIZABETH BOGER, MHJ ARCHIVES H ockey engages every sense for a player. The feel of the puck on the end of your stick. The sound a pair of skates makes in the goalie crease. The smell of a fresh sheet of ice. And the sight of it all coming together. For some hockey players however, they must rely on engaging other senses to make up for impairment. Players like Mike Hutchens, who is one of 18 regis- tered players in Minnesota's first-ever blind hockey program, which kicked off its inaugural season this past fall. "This is so cool," Hutchens said. "I took up skating last year. I decided to try it and I love it." Hutchens, like his fellow blind hockey teammates in Minnesota and others across the state, listens carefully to the noises around him during a Minnesota Wild Blind Hockey practice. 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 clanking of a loud, metal puck gliding toward him. Though he's without his sight, the 33-year-old Mankato, Minn., native relies heavily on the echo of his voice and the sounds on the ice to serve as his guide. Starting to grow Blind hockey is still relatively new to the United States. Its origins can be traced to Canada in the early 1970s, but the sport wasn't officially introduced to the U.S. until 2014. During the first-ever Blind Hockey Summit held in Newburgh, N.Y., in October 2014, local players and visiting Canadian players played games and held try-it sessions for anyone who was interested. The response prompted USA Hockey to hold a similar event at the 2015 USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival in Buffalo, N.Y., and blind hockey has since become one of the fastest growing segments of disabled hockey. While new to Minnesota this year, areas like Pittsburgh and Chicago have been home to blind hockey leagues for a number of years. UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, Pa., even 42 / MAY.JUNE.2019 RINKMAGAZINE.COM , Blind hockey is one of the fastest-growing segments of disabled hockey. The Sound of Hockey Blind hockey programs offer players a way to experience the game REAL PROGRAMS Blind Hockey by ELIZABETH BOGER

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