Only 10 players make up the “Hartford Braillers” which is Connecticut’s only blind hockey team, but the players say the formation of the team is invaluable.
The team began in January 2017, and has grown since its inception.
Channel 3 learned that some of the players will try out for the National U.S. Blind Hockey Team this spring.
Once a week, the small team comes to practice the sport they love at the Newington Ice Arena.
Hartford Braillers forward, Keith Haley told Channel 3 Sports that each player on the team has some sort of visual impairment.
“I have glaucoma so I have peripheral loss,” said Haley.
“I served 10 years in the Air Force, and two weeks after I was honorably discharged, I lost my eyesight in a work-related accident," said Jim Sadecki, a Braillers defender.
“We rate [vision impairment] B1 through B4. Your B1's and B2's have little or no vision, and they're generally your defenders, because your goalie and your defenders can kind of ‘stay at home,’” explained Haley.
“Whereas your B3 and B4, those are your more of visual impairment than totally blind, and those you want to be your forwards because they have to move the puck up and down the ice.”
Goalie Liz Bottner and Sadecki are completely blind. To play, they rely on the help of volunteers when getting around on the ice.
“I've done a lot of blind sports,” said Bottner, who described the search to finding ice hockey as a sport she enjoyed.
“Ice skating has been the one thing where you don't have to hold on to anybody. You can go fast. You can feel that cold air on your face.”
In watching the game, a spectator may not notice any differences in the game save for minor changes to the equipment, such as the pucks that allow players to rely on their other senses while playing.
“I'm more in tune with my hearing and it comes down to team communications,” said Bottner.
Keith Haley told Channel 3 Sports that he played hockey in high school and for a men’s league. In his early 20s, he said he noticed his vision started to deteriorate signaling to him that he needed to hang up his skates.
“Those skates stayed on the hook for about 20 years until recently when I heard about the blind hockey team and ‘I said listen, I don't care how old I am, I'm going to give this a shot,’” said Haley.
“That's what's great about anyone with a disability, you're only as disabled as you allow yourself to be.”
Each player shares a similar on the loss of vision regardless of the severity, but they agree that few things were as special as the feeling of stepping back out onto the ice.
“Freedom. It was truly freedom. Just the exhilaration,” said Hartford Braillers Defense, Jim Sadecki.
“The feeling of the cold air in your face. A blind person, especially totally blind, there's challenges of feeling that sense of speed and the wind in your face and hockey has given me that.”
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