Hockey event in Saskatoon gives blind kids a chance to strap on skates

Canadian Blind Hockey, a charity that provides blind hockey programming to children and youth who are blind or partially sighted, attracted 15 children aged four to 18 in Saskatoon Tuesday.  (Pratyush Dayal/CBC - image credit)
Canadian Blind Hockey, a charity that provides blind hockey programming to children and youth who are blind or partially sighted, attracted 15 children aged four to 18 in Saskatoon Tuesday. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC - image credit)

Dreams came true in a Saskatoon hockey rink Tuesday afternoon as blind and partially blind kids hit the ice alongside the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's hockey team.

"I want to become the blind hockey Gretzky," Isaiah Gauthier, who has severe visual impairment and depends on his cane and braille, said. "I'm very excited to be part of blind hockey."

The nine-year-old hopes to someday play alongside his favourite player, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

His mother Renelle Gauthier said they have modified everything at their home to ensure Isaiah lives a full life.

"It takes a village to raise a kid and blind hockey is just that. We want these opportunities for our kids so badly, so that they have the opportunity to live their life to the fullest," she said.

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

Canadian Blind Hockey, a charity that provides hockey programming to young people who are blind or partially sighted, returned to Saskatchewan for the first time in nine years this week.

Its program, Try Skating and Blind Hockey, attracted 15 blind or partially sighted children ages of four to 18 from Saskatoon.

Pratyush Dayal/CBC
Pratyush Dayal/CBC

Mercedes Crosson said it was a wonderful chance for her daughter, Emma Crosson, to learn how to skate so she can play hockey with her uncles.

"It's very important to make her feel included in sports, so it doesn't make her feel different compared to other kids," Crosson said.

"Our family is big into hockey and this will help my baby girl."

WATCH| Huskie hockey pairs with Canadian Blind Hockey to teach kids the game:

Shayla Stone agreed, saying she often finds her son, Cohen Stone, not being included in many activities due to his visual impairment, which affects his depth perception.

"To not be able to go to a skating birthday party, or to instead walk while other kids skate, or not being included on field trips happens often," she said.

"Kids know when they are not able to join or are missing out on things, so blind hockey is a great way for that inclusion."

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

Though she has trained in figure skating, Stone feels overwhelmed trying to teach her son how to skate.

"It's very exciting to not only get the kids to learn the skills in a safe environment under professional supervision, but also to see them encouraged that there are things out there for them."

'The goal is to grow also in Regina': Canadian Blind Hockey

Aiden Bulych, who plays forward for the Huskies, said the event was an enriching experience for him as well.

"To see all these kids happy and smiling is amazing," he said. "Just because they are a little different, it doesn't mean they can't play alongside me."

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

Bulych said his message to kids is that anything is possible and to keep believing in themselves.

"It's their first time skating and they are doing a lot better than I did my first time," he said.

"Sticking with hockey with a positive attitude and knowing that they can do this is important."

The free program is being offered as a pilot project, with a goal of starting an ongoing blind hockey program in Saskatoon.

Luca DeMontis, the program director of Canadian Blind Hockey, said there are currently 14 blind hockey programs across the country, but none in Saskatchewan, and that Tuesday's program will be the first step to bringing the para sport to the community.

"There is a huge need in this community. Saskatchewan is a hockey province and it only makes sense that we bring blind hockey to this province," he said.

"The goal is to grow also in Regina and have these two cities as focal hubs."

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

DeMontis said blind hockey was created in 1937, and is very similar to hockey with a few adaptations.

He said a lot of emphasis is placed on communication, as no two players see the same.

"It's important to have these programs for the wellbeing of kids and to prove how inclusive hockey truly is, both on and off the ice."