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Athletes find community in CO Visionaries Blind Hockey program

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By Deborah Swearingen

Eighteen years ago, doctors told Dave Cohen his son probably wouldn’t make it.

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But on Sunday, Dave watched with pride from behind the glass of the frigid Foothills Ice Arena as his son, Jake, glided across the rink for the first time.

“They told me he wouldn’t make it through the night,” Dave said, of Jake, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that ultimately left him blind. “What he does is amazing.

“I’ll support him no matter what,” Dave added.

Last weekend, supporting Jake meant watching from afar as his son, who recently had two prosthetic eyes put in, participated in his first practice with the Colorado Visionaries Blind Hockey program.

The program was founded in January 2018, and the group began to practice regularly after a successful Try Hockey event sponsored by the Colorado Avalanche hockey team at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The team is for all ages and currently has members ranging from 5 to 60 years old. Blind hockey has been going strong in Canada for at least a decade but is just starting to take off in the United States.

Generally speaking, athletes who are fully blind play goalie. If a goalie is not totally blind, they are required to wear eyewear to prevent them from using their vision. Lower-sighted athletes typically play defense, while higher-sighted athletes play forward. The adapted puck makes noise and is bigger and slower than a traditional puck.

“Communication is a big thing in hockey, but it’s an even bigger thing in blind hockey. You have to be talking constantly and communicating with your team and with your goalie,” said Geoff Martin.

Martin lost a lot of his vision in 2015 due to glaucoma. More than anything, he loves that the blind hockey program allows him to play the game he loves.

“This is a perfect way for me to kind of get back into the hockey community,” Martin said.

On Sunday, during the practice that kicked off the winter session, hockey players of all skill levels took to the ice, dividing up in groups for lessons and games. Perhaps the most fearless of all were the youngest players, who spent a lot of time slipping and sliding without a care in the world.

When asked about his favorite part of the sport, 7-year-old Logan Galloway wasted no time proclaiming: “Everything!”

“I like that you get to do this,” he later added as he zoomed across the ice and quickly fell.

Watching Logan and his 5-year-old sister, Zoe, have fun on the ice is special for their parents, Allison and Mike.

“It’s pretty cool,” Mike said.

“Logan loves it. He plays floor hockey in our house,” Allison added. “ … It’s something we never thought would be a passion.”

Part of a team

Of all the benefits to the blind hockey program, the community and camaraderie tops the list. Many of the players, particularly the younger ones, have been told they can’t actually be a part of a team, said Kevin Conners, who helps coach.

“So this is their team,” he said.

Steve Patten agreed. Patten works as a cane travel instructor for the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton, and he considers himself a lifelong hockey enthusiast.

“I love team sports. I’ve always loved team sports. The camaraderie of getting together, you know,” he said.

Editor's note: To view more photos of the Colorado Visionaries, check out photo editor Sara Hertwig's photo gallery on the Columbine Courier home page.