Thursday, 9 April 2009

Communication Means Everything

Hockey is a game full of sounds. Everything from the sound of players crashing against the boards during a thunderous hit to fans cheering on a great play to the goal horn, hockey has its distinctive sounds. However, there are many sounds we really don't get to hear while watching the game on television. Communication between players, instructions from coaches, and officials chatting with the players are all things that we miss while watching from afar. But what if you couldn't hear any of those sounds? What if your life is lived in silence? How do players know when to stop playing if they can't hear the whistle? We may think that being unable to hear would be a serious problem for hockey players as this game is based heavily on communication, but, in reality, that notion couldn't be further from the truth. Deaf and hearing-impaired people enjoy hockey as much as paraplegic players do, and their sport has some definite changes to aid them in the flow of the game. Today, Hockey Blog In Canada is proud to present to you the sport of Deaf Hockey.

The game itself isn't much different than the way it is played by the hearing community. Offsides, penalties, icing - all of it exists in deaf hockey as it does in non-deaf hockey. Where the game differs is that there are strobe lights placed along the boards behind the plexiglass. These strobe lights are activated when the whistle is blown, and the players know there is a stoppage in play.

Referees are instructed that there is normally a slight difference in the response time for the deaf hockey players to pick up on the visual stimuli as they have to have their heads up, but reactions are still fairly quick on the international level.

Of course, there are different hurdles off the ice for players to overcome. Some players can read lips, others rely on American Sign Language alone, while some players do have some hearing. Coaching consists of having a sign language interpreter as well as a lot of patience. Coaches can't just face the whiteboard and diagram plays while barking out orders. Referees and linesmen also must make clear what is being called so that there is no confusion for players and coaches.

"You have a lot of action going on, some can only read lips, some need the sign language and some have a little bit of hearing, so you have to make sure in groups they can see your mouth when you're talking and have the interpreter in full view as well," Canadian head coach Jim Vitale said to Ashley Prest of the Winnipeg Free Press. "It's a little bit different than just turning around and writing on a coaches' board and have them hear you. Here, you have to hold the coaches' board to face the players."

While it seems far too early to write any of these players off as NHL players, the chances of making the NHL as a hearing-impaired or deaf player are not good. Only one player has ever played in the NHL while being hearing-impaired or deaf, and former NHL defenceman Jim Kyte is an inspiration to all hearing-impaired and deaf hockey players. Kyte spent parts of 14 seasons in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames, and San Jose Sharks. In 598 games, he scored 66 points while spending 1342 minutes in the penalty box.

Kyte's story is an interesting one as he was diagnosed legally deaf at the age of three due to a hereditary deficiency that caused a degeneration of his audio nerve. While he wore special hearing aids to assist him, he had to ensure that the audio devices on his ears stayed protected. To do so, the equipment manager in Winnipeg fitted his helmet with special earpieces to protect his hearing aids.

There is a second hearing-impaired player on the horizon, although he has appeared in a few NHL games already. He may also be one of the more reckless players in hockey today. Tampa Bay's Steve Downie wears a hearing aid on his right ear off the ice, but removes it for games. Downie suffers from otosclerosis, the abnormal growth of the middle bone in the ear.

With the games starting tomorrow, I'll be taking some photos of each team's jerseys. To get you started, here is Team Canada's white uniform. I like them. Simple, classy... nothing wrong with the way they look. I'll try to post pictures of each country's uniforms before Monday so you get a full look at the tournament's uniform fashions.

Canada's schedule is as follows:

  • Saturday: Canada vs. U.S., 1:30 p.m.
  • Monday: Canada vs. Slovakia, 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday: Canada vs. Russia, 1 p.m.
  • Thursday: Canada vs. Finland, 3 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 18: bronze-medal game, 9 a.m.
  • Saturday, April 18: gold-medal game, 1 p.m.
For more information on the World Deaf Hockey Championships, please visit their site here. There are five teams playing in the event - Canada, USA, Russia, Slovakia, and Finland. It is expected that Canada, Russia, and Finland will be the stronger teams, but short tournaments can change those expectations in a hurry. Schedule information and game times (in .pdf format) can be found here.

Lots more coverage tomorrow from the event itself as I gear up for the Slovakia-Russia game in the morning. If possible, I will look into obtaining some prizes for an upcoming contest on HBIC, so keep your eyes on this site if you want a chance at some free shwag.

Until tomorrow, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Jennifer Hammer said...

As a hearing-impaired hockey fan, I love that you've highlighted this! Awesome!