What Hockey Means to Me

By: Brady Koehler

Playing hockey is tough.  It requires tremendous amounts of strength, skill and speed.  When you add in a vision impairment, it’s nearly impossible but blind hockey rectifies this.   In blind hockey, the puck is bigger than a regular hockey puck and it makes noise.  There is no checking and the nets are slightly smaller than regular nets.  This was all the adjustment I needed to succeed at a game I already loved.  Before I started at NY Metro Blind Hockey, I played on a house league at a local ice rink.  With 20/400 vision, I was never able to really compete.  The level of play was too fast and finding the small puck was an unattainable challenge, even with a wide age range on the ice.  Blind Hockey leveled the proverbial playing field for me.  It allows me to safely compete at a team sport that I love.  

I am so grateful to have this opportunity and I am always trying to contribute more by growing as a player.  Our team practices twice a month and I literally count the days in between.  During that time, I am constantly working on my own to improve my game.  I workout twice a week with a trainer.  My current goals are to increase my leg strength to make my skating faster and improve my lower body flexibility to improve my agility on the ice.  I also work with a skating coach once a week.  My focus right now is my edge work.  I work extremely hard in order to improve and I don’t let anything stop me.  If there’s still time left in the week after schoolwork, working with my trainer, working with my skating coach and our NYMBH practices, I workout with my friend and watch any NHL game I can find to improve my strategy and general understanding of the game.  This may sound like a lot, but I truly love every minute!   

Tournament play is my favorite aspect of blind hockey.  I have been to multiple tournaments and events including ones in Tampa Bay, FL, Bayonne, NJ and Harrisburg, PA.  I am also looking forward to the next event in Chicago.  I can’t wait to see how my game has improved and to compete with other blind athletes.  The comradery and friendships are almost as important as the hockey itself.  It’s not easy to find friends who understand being vision impaired.  Blind Hockey offers me those relationships as well as safe competitive sports.

At NYMBH, the people could not be more supportive and the relationships any stronger.  It’s truly a privilege to come to the rink and lace up the skates every other week.  Our coaches teach us elements of the game and constantly encourage us to do better.  I have also met some of my closest friends there.  We support each other on and off the ice.  Together we are striving to earn a place on the USA National Blind Hockey team and eventually become paralympians.  Hockey is a sport, but above that, hockey is a family and NYMBH is proof of that.

My son’s blog November 2017

Life is all about wonderful opportunities and great experiences. Thankfully, God has blessed my family and I with both of these assets. We get provided with a life full of benefits.

An example of this would be the ability to grow blind hockey and expand it throughout the New York Metro area. Having this great opportunity opens many doors for me, my family, and the visually impaired community. Giving the visually impaired a chance to play ice hockey allows them to interact with each other, communicate, and have fun.

In blind ice hockey, players use a large black puck filled with ball-bearings so that can hear where the play is despite their lack of vision. And for the goalies, there is a ‘passing rule’ which forces the player on offense to pass the puck to another teammate at least once to give the net minder a chance to get ready to defend the net. Also, there is a custom net for the goalies. This net is smaller then a regulation sized net. This cause the elevation of the puck to decrease which also helps the goalie make a save.

Fortunately, my family and I were able to host our first ever MYMBH event. It turned out to be extraordinary. The event was held at Northwell Ice Center, home of the NY Islanders! I was delighted to see a great crowd of people from all parts of America and Canada at our event. The skaters with vision issues fit right in with the volunteers as well. The helpers contributed a lot by assisting those who needed it. Many of the volunteers were from the Middle Country freshmen ice hockey team, which is the team I play for. Other kind people helped too including Steve Webb, a retired Islander, and Sparky, the team mascot! In addition, News 12 was in the rink as well. Eventually, my dad made it on the channel. He did a great job organizing the event and making sure everything was moving in the right direction.

Hockey for the visually impaired is a terrific thing. Seeing it grow is even better. So yes, our first event was definitely successful and I cannot wait for the many other events to come.

My sons blog about our weekend in Pittsburgh, PA.

In October, I had one of the best weekends of my life. It all started on the 8 – hour drive from LI, New York to Pittsburgh, PA. At first I felt a bit sick and had a major headache. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to make it the whole way there! However, the pains in my head decreased and my excitement got rid of the feeling of sickness. Hours later, we arrived in Pittsburgh. It was my brother and I’s first time ever in the city. I looked out the window and could not believe my eyes. I was seeing the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex – In other words, I saw the Pittsburgh Penguins’ practice facility! But that wasn’t all that made a smile grow on my face. Our hotel was right across from the rink! I was so happy at that point. It was a Friday and I had a game that day. So we checked in at the rink. The Pens Blind Hockey members gave me a bag with a bobblehead, jersey and flashlight. After that, we visited the hotel which was within walking distance. How convenient! Next, it was time for my first game. Turns out it was a practice. The next thing we did was go into our assigned locker rooms. I went to locker room #3 and started getting suited up for the practice. After I was done, it was time to get on the ice. So, I took off my glasses and started down the hall. It was quite difficult to navigate around everywhere but with the help of my brother I was in good hands. I stepped on the ice surface. For the first time in my life, I began to skate while being legally blind with no correction. The feeling was incredible. It was so different with very low vision, yet it was a beautiful sight. I guess hockey comes natural for me because I did not have the hardest time skating, but it was a little struggle. When the practice began, I started out a bit insecure but as the session progressed, I felt better than ever. Day 1 is a wrap!

The next day we had breakfast and then went to skate. I had 4 sessions on that Saturday. The four different times I was eligible to play, I felt like I was in heaven! I had such a great time experiencing blind ice hockey wearing no corrected lenses or glasses. That night, some of the participants of the summit went to see the Nashville – Pittsburgh game. When we arrived at the PPG Paints Arena, I was so happy and thankful to be there. The arena was so cool and interesting. The game was absolutely amazing! I got to experience the epic Penguins fan base. I even got to hear their horn after the Penguins scored 4 times! Aside from the NHL game, day II was great.

Sunday meant it was our last day at the 2017 Summit. The tournament ended with two victories by the gold teams. In fact, I scored in one of the games. Blind Ice hockey was so much fun, even though it was hard to see. That concluded our trip. I left Pittsburgh feeling so eager to come back! I had a blast playing blind ice hockey in the Penguins practice ice rink and going to the Penguins game. That trip to Pittsburgh for the 2017 Blind ice hockey summit was unforgettable. It was so nice meeting people from all different parts of the country and who had different levels of impairment. I was lucky enough to meet some people who made my trip even more positive! The visually impaired community is such a great group of people. I am so grateful for the opportunity and would love for every visually impaired person to experience this type of hockey as well.

NHL Penguins game

With my bro & Dad
With my bro & Dad

Why me?

I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Ted Caputo. I live in Long Island New York. I am married with 3 kids. I have one daughter and two sons. When my older son was born we noticed that he was very quiet and would play for long periods of time with his toys on the floor holding them ever so close to his face. We didn’t think much of it at the time. We had his vision tested at about 3 years old at a local eyeglass store and they told us that no matter what they tried they could not get a reading on his eyesight. We then took him to a Pediatric Ophthalmologist who diagnosed him with Ectopia Lentis. This is a condition where the lenses in the eye are dislocated. Our first doctor told us that our son may never live a normal life and that he may never drive a car, see well or play sports. We were devastated. We switched to a more sensitive Doctor who tried to correct this condition with special eyeglasses but my son’s lenses were too dislocated. We finally made the difficult decision to remove his lenses which ultimately left him as legally blind. He was fitted with special glasses and contacts and after years of trips back and forth to the specialist he can now see very well and is doing great in school and has been playing ice and deck hockey. He is truly passionate about anything related to Hockey.
We were blessed with another son who was diagnosed with the same condition. He has undergone the same surgery as his brother in one eye. He is also responding very well to the corrections and is doing great in school and also plays ice and deck hockey. Thank you to all the doctors at Long Island Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus that have given us guidance and support through an extremely difficult time.
We have always been interested in volunteering and giving back to our community so years ago we joined the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind located in Smithtown, New York and have raised a Vet Dog, been a temp home for many dogs, volunteered in the kennels and currently have a retired guide dog at home.

Many thanks to Arnold Chapman of the New York State Commission for the Blind who has provided us with resources available for our kids and for referring us to Sensei Devin of Third Eye Insight who, in 2016, asked us if we would like to join a group of visually impaired people and skate with the NY Islanders! This was an opportunity of a lifetime. The Islanders are a fantastic group of guys that are tremendously generous and made sure the crowd was engaged the entire time.

In the spring of 2017 we were notified of a Blind Ice Hockey league and were immediately excited about the idea of combining our love of volunteering with our love of hockey. Kevin Shanley, one of the founders of Blind Ice Hockey in the USA, asked me if I would like to represent the Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens area. I was excited and nervous all at the same time. Would it be a good fit in the area? Can we get the low vision/blind community interested and involved? Would we have enough volunteers and organizations willing to get involved? These are all questions that will be answered shortly.
Will you take the journey with us? USA Hockey is a strong supporter of this program and their intention is to allow people to get a taste of the sport and eventually get Blind Ice Hockey recognized in the Paralympic games.
Please take a look around the website and if you are interested in joining us for a try it session please respond using one of the contact methods listed in the Contact Us section.

Thank you and I hope to hear from you soon.