The 2019 USA Hockey Blind Hockey Summit was held August 22-25 at TRIA Rink in Saint Paul, MN. Over 70 players and coaches and from across the country participated in the sixth annual event, which showcased one of the newest disciplines of disabled hockey.
While the event was only four days, the impact it had on many participants will likely be remembered forever.
“This weekend meant so much to so many people,” said Minnesota Hockey Disabled Hockey Director and event coordinator Antonia Gillen. “Players were coming off saying, ‘I scored my first goal ever.' Family members saying, 'we never thought our child would have this opportunity.’”
“I also heard a lot of, ‘I made a lot of friends this weekend’ and people saying they feel like they belong to a hockey community now.”
Over the course of the weekend, participants in the Blind Hockey Summit had the opportunity to participate in an extended list of events on and off the ice.
The Summit kicked off with a coach clinic focused specifically on blind hockey. While most of the coaches have previously participated in coach clinics, and some had even been to clinics with an emphasis on coaching in disabled hockey players, this was the first time they received training on coaching blind athletes, which resulted in rave reviews.
The first on-ice sessions of the weekend took place Thursday, starting with a try blind hockey session. Then, the USA National Blind Hockey team took the stage in a showcase game against NHL Alumni, including Minnesota Wild alums Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette.
On Friday, the players took the ice for leveling scrimmages, which were used to split the players into equal teams for the rest of the weekend. Then, the teams competed in a series of three games on Saturday and Sunday, as well as participating in off-ice events including an event reception and a trip to the Minnesota State Fair.
“For a lot of the players, it was their first opportunity to actually play in games in a competitive nature,” said Gillen. “They’ve never had that opportunity because all of these teams are a lot like Minnesota, we’re super local and super new.”
With only 150 total registered players across the country, most blind hockey programs, such as the Minnesota Wild Blind Hockey program which started last season, feature only a small number of players of all ages. The opportunity for participants to play, compete and socialize with 60 players who share their passion for the game is a special experience.
“Families were amazed and fans were impressed,” said Gillen. “Everybody who was like, ‘what is blind hockey’, left the weekend going, well, it’s hockey.”
“I think for a lot of participants this weekend didn’t feel like it was a blind hockey summit. It felt like it was a hockey tournament. Not that they weren’t treated differently, it was that they were treated like hockey players. Definitely there were adaptations, there were helpers on the ice, but in the end, it was a weekend of hockey.”
Minnesota Hockey would like to extend a special thank you to the Minnesota Wild, UBS Financial, Hendrickson Foundation, TRIA Rink and Minnesota Warriors for their support of this event!