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Cane Travel Challenge Recreation General Colorado Center Information Independence Training Program

Belding Travels with Hockey Stick All the Way to the First U.S. #BlindHockey team #LivetheLifeYouWant @USAHockey

Daniel works the puck across the ice
Daniel in full Hockey gear in action on the ice

 

Since January, fans attending Colorado Avalanche games have been treated to between-periods video of the Try Blind Hockey Day on January 17. Over 50 blind Coloradans went out on the ice that day, some for the first time, others with a stick in their hand for the first time. Fans are impressed by the video, but it is little more than an historical artifact now.

In just three short months, blind hockey has gone from being nonexistent in Colorado to a sport avidly pursued by dozens of players. And it’s produced a member of the newly-formed U.S. National Blind Hockey Team under the auspices of USA Hockey.

Daniel Belding, Cane Travel Instructor at CCB, was invited to be a member of the first U.S. team. The only other team right now is Canada, but other countries are anxious to get their blind athletes out on the ice soon, spurred on perhaps by the first-ever international blind hockey games planned for October. That’s when the new U.S. team will meet Canada in Pittsburgh for a best-of-three series.

Since January, about a dozen and a half Metro-area skaters, men and women and some as young as six years old, met weekely for practice. Craig Fitzpatrick, a member of the Washington Wheelers was temporarily located here for his day job and certainly helped inspire young blind hockey players. Fitzpatric visited CCB in March to talk about blind hockey, though a number of students were already going to practices. Fitzpatrick was also picked for the U.S. team.

As a result of all that ice time, Belding and fellow Cane Travel Instructor Steve Patten were invited to attend the 14th annual Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival in Chicago last weekend. It was from among the 80-plus blind skaters that Belding, Fitzpatrick and others were invited to try out for the national team.

It’s never been a secret that Daniel loves hockey. So much so that he played on sighted teams in high school leagues in the Denver area. Though he didn’t think of himself as blind at the time despite limited central vision and even more limited peripheral vision. He nonetheless developed a number of alternative techniques to stay on the ice.

“You can hear the (standard) puck a lot better as the game goes on,” Daniel said of one of those alternate techniques, noting that the ice gets rougher with prolonged play.

But his experience with blind hockey dates to January 17 and the Try Blind Hockey Day at the Pepsi Center. He couldn’t be having more fun!

Blind hockey is a relatively new sport in the U.S. Though it started in Canada in the 1970s it wasn’t played below the 49th Parallel until three years ago. Along with teams in Canada, there were at least seven teams active in the U.S. at the start of this year, including the Wheelers. There will soon be more than a dozen. So the rapid rise in popularity of blind hockey in the Denver area really isn’t anything new, but parallels the rapid expansion of blind hockey in the U.S. since 2014. And maybe it prefigures a worldwide trend to come!

What’s up next for the national team is a skills camp in July and then a final cut-down to 14 from 30 in August. Those will be the players that face off against Canada in the fall.

For Belding, there’s no chance he’ll be slowing down. The chance to play the game he loves so much has energized him. He and Patten have been on the ice three mornings a week at Denver University for months already – at 5:30 a.m. If anything, he’ll be looking for more ice time now!

Craig Fitzpatrick holds up an adapted hockey puck while he gives a talk about Blind Hockey at the Colorado Center for the Blind

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Challenge Recreation General Colorado Center Information Independence Training Program

Taking It to the Net: CCB There at Start of Blind Hockey in Colorado @USAHockey

CCB students go out on the ice in their hockey gear

Back in January the Colorado Avalanche hosted a “Try Hockey” event for prospective blind hockey players. It featured several blind hockey players from across Canada and the United States and was coordinated by USA Hockeyand the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association. Forty-two blind participants, including youth and some,like me, who were much older, took to the ice that day. About half of those participants came from CCB. You can read more about it in this article, Try-Blind-Hockey Day Another Example of How Hockey is for Everyone.

The goal was to encourage amateur blind hockey in the area. It’s working! Since that mid-January event, an average of 18 or so blind hockey enthusiasts have been hitting the ice, practicing passes and shots with the idea of creating some serious competition, says CCB Travel Instructor Daniel Belding, who is well-beyond being termed a mere hockey enthusiast.It was Daniel who took the lead for CCB when we were first contacted about the Try Blind Hockey event.

As a matter of fact, Daniel will be one of only three blind Coloradans who will travel to the 14th annual Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival in Chicago April 5 to 8, along with his colleague Steve Patten and CCB alum Mike Straub. There they will play with about 80 other very, very serious blind hockey players.

So yes, this very much looks like the start of competitive blind hockey in Colorado!

(Disclaimer: Because of my limitations, not as a blind photographer but as a skater, these photos are taken either while leaning up against the glass or from inside the players bench area. The best skaters that day were out of my reach as a skating photographer, and you should look at the USA Hockey Red Line blog post for some really good ones. By the way, the Avalanche have continued to show video clips from that first day between thirds at home games.)

CCB students & alums put on skates and pads
Ravi flashes a huge smile through the face guard of her hockey helmet

 

Dan in his hockey helmet and mask
Mickey and her guide take a break on the players bench