'They're all the same on the ice': Blind hockey growing on Avalon Peninsula

Alex Kennedy/CBC

Three years ago, nine-year-old Kaiden Benoit, who is both visually impaired and hearing impaired, found minor hockey becoming too difficult.

Then he learned about blind hockey — and was immediately hooked.

"My mom found it on a website and we just jumped right in," Kaiden said at a session in St. John's that Newfoundland Blind Ice Hockey hosted this week to get people on the ice to try the sport.

"My favourite part is that, like, when you're on the ice, when they drop the puck and you get the goal."

Kaiden is part of the growing number of athletes playing blind hockey on the Avalon Peninsula.

Blind hockey isn't much different from regular hockey, but features minor rule changes to make the game accessible. Players play with a larger puck with metal bearings inside so they can hear the puck moving across the ice rather than see it. There is also a two-pass rule once players pass the blue line, so goalies can hear the play coming.

Blind hockey goalies must be completely blind. They wear blindfolds in net so they can't be accused of seeing the puck and cheating. 

Alex Kennedy/CBC

Brandon Joy was deemed legally blind when he was in Grade 8. He attended a blind hockey camp in Vancouver and fell in love with the sport. Once he and his father returned to Newfoundland, they began working on blind hockey for this province through help from the Lion's Club and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Three years after the program started, Brandon is excited to get more people on the ice and learn about blind hockey.

"I'm really proud that we can get enough kids out here … to see if they enjoy it," Brandon said.

Brandon's dad, Steve, helps manage the program and the blind hockey team, the Newfoundland Eyelanders. He says blind hockey is slowly growing in Newfoundland.

"We started the first year with two kids, then we moved up to four or five," Joy said. "This year we're looking at having eight to 10 kids on the ice every Sunday."

"Someday I'd love to be able to offer it to all the children of Newfoundland," Joy added.

Alex Kennedy/CBC

Kaiden's mother, Lisa Guest, says the introduction of blind hockey to the area has been great for Kaiden and her hockey loving family.

"He was starting to get frustrated and stuff with minor hockey," Guest said. "And to look at him now and be excited to get on the ice and be involved, he's come so far … his self-esteem and just the way he handles himself now."

Thursday's session came with a visit from Kaiden's favourite hockey team, the Newfoundland Growlers. The organization presented the team with a $10,000 cheque to help develop blind hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Alex Kennedy/CBC

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