‘My eyes are my ears’: how this goaltender stops the puck in a blind hockey series

‘My eyes are my ears’: how this goaltender stops the puck in a blind hockey series

Most goalies have a hard time seeing the puck when shot through a maze of sticks, skates, and struggling bodies, but Joey Cabral can’t see the puck at all.

To stop it, you have to listen to it.

“For sighted people, it’s their eyes. For me, with zero vision, my eyes are my ears… It’s all about sound.”

Cabral, from Toronto, plays goal in a new hockey series where all the players are legally blind. The Carnegie Cup Elite Blind Hockey Series kicked off in Toronto on Friday and will run all weekend at the Mattamy Centre, formerly the site of Maple Leaf Gardens.

Two players in yellow jerseys are visible but blurry through the dirty, chipped arena glass.
Members of the Blind Hockey League (BHL) play Friday in the opening game at the Mattamy Athletic Center in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Cabral, who has been completely blind since he was four years old due to glaucoma, said the series uses a special disk that allows players to hear where he is.

“It’s three times as big, I’d say, and it’s made of metal and has about eight rattling ball bearings.”

A charity called Canadian Blind Hockey, in association with the Carnegie Initiative for Inclusion and Acceptance in Hockey, is organizing the series. The initiative, launched a year and a half ago, aims to change hockey culture to make it more diverse and inclusive. The games are free to watch.

“Everyone deserves a chance to play”

The series is named after the late Herb Carnegie, who became the first black hockey player to make it to the NHL in the late 1950s after facing massive racism that hampered his career for decades. The initiative tries to guarantee “opportunity and access to hockey everywhere”, which includes bringing the game closer to the visually impaired.

“Everyone deserves a chance to play,” Bryant McBride, co-chair of the Carnegie Initiative, told CBC Toronto on Friday.

“It’s really about exposure. It’s about making sure people know that people of all abilities can play the game. It’s not just about race, it’s not just about gender or socioeconomic status. It’s about to ensure that people see people in all aspects”.

McBride said the series is showcasing incredible athletes.

Hockey players are shown here during the first game of the Carnegie Cup Elite Blind Hockey Series at the Mattamy Athletic Center in Toronto on January 20, 2023.
Hockey players are shown here during the first game of the Carnegie Cup Elite Blind Hockey Series at the Mattamy Athletic Center in Toronto on January 20, 2023. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Canadian Blind Hockey said the series features hockey players from Canada, the United States and Europe. The players have been recruited into two teams to showcase the “faster, more skilled and more competitive version” of the sport, the charity said. The two teams will play three games in total.

To be eligible to compete, players must have only 10 percent vision or less, and goalies must be completely blind.

To honor Carnegie, the team names in the series are a tribute to the last two minor league teams he played for in his career: the Aces and Mercurys.

‘It’s pretty cool’

Brian Burke, who used to be the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and a former analyst for Hockey Night In Canada, said players must be “pretty severely visually impaired” to play.

“I’ve never seen blind hockey before. It’s amazing,” said Burke, who serves on the Canadian board of directors for the Carnegie Initiative and is president of hockey operations for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I’m amazed to see these kids. It’s a new option. It’s really cool.”

Members of the Blind Hockey League (BHL) play in the opening game at the Mattamy Athletic Center in Toronto on January 20, 2023.
The Mercury play the Aces in Game 1 of the Carnegie Cup Elite Blind Hockey Series in Toronto on Friday. Three total games will be played at the Mattamy Athletic Center. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

On its website, Canadian Blind Hockey said the series is a pilot project that aims to create the Blind Hockey League and represents the “prime competitive” opportunity for blind hockey players.

“The goal of the event is to follow an NHL model by recruiting the best blind hockey players from around the world to compete in the Para sport of blind hockey at the highest level possible,” the group said.

“We change the lives of children, youth and adults who are blind or partially sighted through our programs, including field trips, youth teams, developmental camps, regional tournaments, and our Canadian National Hockey Tournament for the Blind,” their statement read. website. .

A goalkeeper seated on the bench wears an eye mask under his goalie mask.
A player on the dugout at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Center on Friday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“Our programming spans the country from coast to coast as we support blind and partially sighted Canadian hockey players of all ages, from playing in the pond to standing proudly on the podium.”

Meanwhile, Cabral is as determined as any goalie to keep the puck out of his net any way he can.

“As long as it’s on the ice and it’s moving, you can hear it, but once it’s in the air, really, it’s just instinct,” he said.

After that, he said, “I hope for the best.”

Brian Burke
Brian Burke, president of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins and a member of the Carnegie Initiative’s Canadian board of directors, says players must have a “fairly severe visual impairment” to play. (CBC)

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