November 17, 2008

The First Deaf Hockey Player

Opposing players and referees had learn to be a little more lenient with Winnipeg Jets' rookie Jim Kyte came into the league in 1983.

Kyte was a giant on the ice, and he enjoyed imposing his physical advantages. Sometimes he would finish his checks after the play had been whistled down, leading to a melee and penalties. But Kyte could legitimately claim to the referees that he did not hear the whistle, because he was the NHL's first, and only, legally deaf player.

"I have the biggest problem with background noise. When I played in the old Chicago Stadium, it was very loud. I wouldn't hear the whistle and I'd be playing when everyone else had stopped. "

Kyte suffered from a hereditary hearing deficiency that broke down his audio nerve from about the age of 3. Kyte could hear, courtesy of special hearing aids. He always had to wear a customized helmet with special flaps covering his ears to protect the hearing aids during games.

Stan Mikita also had a special relationship with the deaf, operating a hockey school for the hearing impaired for years. Canada and the United States have national governing bodies for deaf hockey. Many provinces and states also have strong organizational structures.

The hearing impaired are not the only disabled people who play the game.

Chances are you have been introduced the the paralympic sport of sledge hockey for people with use of their legs. It is a cross between wheel chair basketball and bumper cars. Lorna Schultz Nicholson has a great new book out called Fighting for Gold: The Story of Canada's Sledge Hockey Paralympic Gold.

Canada has a hockey program for amputees, encouraging such challenged people to "put their disabilities on ice."

And believe it or not, there is also hockey for the blind.

I think it is great that hockey is not out of reach for these people. It shows them that despite their challenges that there are opportunities for them too. Just like anything in life, they will have to work hard at it, but all good things come to those who are willing to work for it.

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