Imagine a hockey game with no yelling – because nobody can hear it.
Deaf hockey is one of the quietest games you’ll encounter, where crowds don’t bother being boisterous and players don’t listen for instruction.
Strobe lights flash to let players know a whistle has blown. Athletes sense the vibrations along the boards to predict a pass. Coaches use sign language on the bench to tell players what to do.
Besides that, hockey is hockey, and the Canadian deaf hockey team is recruiting.
“It’s just another team, another program, that Canadians can be proud of,” said Steve Devine, a team veteran and assistant coach at the University of Toronto. “We’ve had a lot of success on the international stage and we wear the Maple Leaf proudly. It’s still that fierce competition, which hockey is.”
The 2011 Deaflympics will be held Feb. 18 to 26 in Slovakia. At the last one, in Sweden in 2007, Canada won silver behind the U.S., after taking gold in 2003 in Salt Lake City. In 2009 in Winnipeg, at the sport’s first world championships, Finland was the surprise winner while Canada took silver.
The team is interested in both deaf and hard of hearing players ages 18 to 30 who play at Junior B to university level.
Hard of hearing is defined as a loss of 55 decibels in one’s better ear, which is a moderate level of hearing loss where you wouldn’t be able to hear the sound of soft rainfall, for example.
“A lot of the guys have had their hearing loss for a considerable amount of time,” said Devine, 29. “They use their vision a lot more. You’ll see a lot more playing with their head up. Funnily enough, one of the things I first learned when I started playing was because deaf people rely on other senses, a lot of players will hit the boards to let other players know they’re close to making a pass.”
Devine found out at age 16 he was hearing impaired.
“I was starting to have trouble hearing in school and starting to struggle,” he recalled. “Someone suggested I had a hearing problem. It kind of caught me off-guard. I was very nervous when I first found out because I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue to lose my hearing, but they’ve told me it’s just going to stay as it is.”
The challenge the team faces is getting the word out that it exists. In the past, deaf kids went to special schools. A coach could fax the school and let them know about the sport. Today, the preference is to mainstream as much as possible – meaning deaf or hard of hearing athletes are harder to find.
“I wish Hockey Canada would do a simple thing, when you register your kid you check off male or female, and [you could also check off] are you hearing impaired or not,” said assistant coach Mike Merriman, a past NCAA star and former captain of the deaf team. “That would give us a great database. We made that request. I don’t know where it went from there. It would just take a bit more space on the registration.”
Devine was lucky – his mom heard about the team in 2003 and got him to try out. Born and raised in Scarborough, he played Jr. A for the Ajax Axemen and Wexford Raiders, then starred for the University of Toronto.
“I hope that kids can look up to me and say, ‘this guy’s hard of hearing and look at what he’s doing,’” Devine said.
The national deaf hockey team will hold a tryout camp in Vaughan, Oct. 14 to 16. Contact Roy Hysen, Executive Team Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.