Twenty Visually Impaired Persons to "Try Blind Hockey" on Sunday
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The Griffins Youth Foundation, in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Griffins and Tim Kane, captain of the U.S. Blind Hockey Team, will host West Michigan's first-ever "Try Blind Hockey" event this Sunday, Jan. 26 from 1-3 p.m. at the east rink of Griff's IceHouse at Belknap Park (30 Coldbrook NE, Grand Rapids).
Twenty visually impaired persons are registered to take part in this free event, using full hockey equipment provided by the Griffins Youth Foundation. They have a wide scope of experience, with some having played hockey and some having never skated, and have levels of vision ranging from partially sighted to none. The participant pool includes males and females spanning ages 4 to 54 and hailing from towns as far north and east as Bad Axe, Mich., and as far south and west as Valparaiso, Ind., including the Grand Rapids, Detroit and Lansing metro areas, Grand Haven, Holland, Kalamazoo and Mount Pleasant.
Each participant will be paired with a guide to assist them throughout their time on the ice. Griffins Youth Foundation players and coaches will comprise most of the guides, whose ranks will also include Griffins head coach Ben Simon and assistant coach Matt Macdonald, former Griffins players Triston Grant and Jordan Pearce, and local hockey-playing media personalities Nick LaFave and Chuck Latour.
Kane, who will be joined by U.S. Blind Hockey teammate Dave Klenk, will coordinate on-ice drills and instruction for more experienced participants on one half of the ice, while Jenn Lardie from the Griffins Youth Foundation will work with beginners on the other.
Following a learn-to-skate period, participants will flow through a series of stations to learn puck-handling, passing and shooting. A short scrimmage will conclude at 2:45 p.m., after which all guides, participants and their families are invited to a social hour in the rink's community room.
Blind hockey is the same exhilarating, fast-paced sport as ice hockey with only one main difference - all of the players are legally blind. The sport features an adapted puck that makes noise and is both bigger and slower than a traditional puck.
"Blind hockey is a very young sport in the U.S. with lots of room to grow," said Kane, an athletic trainer from Grandville, Mich., who is legally blind due to a juvenile degenerative condition. "It's exciting that organizations like the Griffins and their foundation are creating these opportunities for people with impairments, and it's especially exciting for people like myself who enjoyed the game when they were younger and then seemingly lost the ability to play.
"Imagine a kid playing a sport that he or she never thought would be possible," Kane added. "It's a lot of fun to see people get out on the ice for the first time. We want people to see that hockey really is for everyone."
"Our organization was founded to provide hockey opportunities to kids who face barriers to participation," said Kirk Morgan, executive director of the Griffins Youth Foundation. "Inspired by a blind player already in our program, 10-year-old Tryson Smallegan, we and the Griffins enthusiastically agreed to partner with Tim on this event when he approached us. We hope it will open new doors to play this great sport for those of all ages."
The "Try Blind Hockey" event will follow Saturday's inaugural "Hockey Without Barriers Night" at Van Andel Arena, as the Griffins showcase the inclusiveness of the sport during their 7 p.m. game against San Diego. Kane will drop the ceremonial puck and join the Smallegan family at a table on the concourse promoting blind hockey, while the intermissions will feature short on-ice contests by the Grand Rapids Sled Wings, a team of sled hockey athletes with physical disabilities, and the West Michigan Special Hockey Association, an amateur-level ice hockey program for children and young adults with Down Syndrome, autism or other developmental disabilities.
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