The 2nd Annual BVA Blind Hockey Weekend held in our nations capitol was a huge success. The event brought together Veterans and visually impaired athletes from across the country. Some came to learn to skate, some to sharpen their blind hockey skills in our national training camp, and others to compete with top blind hockey stars in the country.
Washington, DC Experience
The athletes started arriving early Thursday morning. When I look back at all my years competing ice dance in Europe, besides the skating what sticks out most in my mind is the experience. It’s the midnight dinners with my wife in Paris, the rickshaw bike rides on the cobble stone streets of Riva, Latvia, and visiting Dracula’s Castle Bran in Transylvania, Romania on Halloween.
We are not competing for the Olympic gold medal or to win the World Championship match. While the athletes come to learn and compete, it’s also important to make new friends and memories. For this reason I secured a large mansion near the White House in DC so the Vets could take in the real Washington experience.
Early Start For The BVA
I woke up early Friday and sprung into action, first stop was the BVA headquarters in Old Town. I had a van full of hockey equipment delivered overnight from our event at the Central Park – Wollman Rink in Manhattan, NY. After picking up the rest of the equipment at the office I dropped it all at the rink and headed back to the house to pick everyone up. We caravanned to the rink, where my wife Emme Porter was leading the Learn to Skate portion of the program.
After the Learn to Skate the pucks came out and we started on the blind hockey drills. A big focus of the BVA Blind Hockey Weekend was puck control, and shooting. These are skills not often practiced by the athletes because of lack of ice time and lack of coaching. We were lucky to have some elite athletes with us including 2016 Paralympic silver medalist, John Kuska. About mid way through the hour and a half ice slot we split into teams, and a fast paced blind hockey match ensued!
After playing the athletes headed back to the house, ate lunch and relaxed for a couple hours. The 2nd ice slot started at 2pm with Learn to Skate, followed by advanced power skating and hockey drills. The Vets played great! Manny Rivas from Los Angeles played his first game as a goal tender. He came with three other athletes from their newly formed team – the LA Quake Blind Hockey Club.
Navy Yard Skating Spectacular
For Saturday morning I had secured some ice donated by the Navy Yard Canal Ice Rink. What a fantastic time for our Blinded Veterans and visually impaired athletes! This rink is an outdoor open ice facility with two rounded ice canals at either end. All the volunteers, athletes and families were invited to skate. We pulled out a blind puck, and some hockey sticks to play monkey in the middle and pass the puck around. Most of the Vets had never skated on an outdoor rink before, it such a fun experience!
Recognition and Awards Banquet
The caterer and volunteers started showing up around 2pm as chairs, tables, decorations, trophies, and more for 60 people were taken up four flights of stairs to the epic mansion rooftop for the recognition and awards banquet. I can’t stress enough how the community came together to pull this off. My friend and well know Washington restauranteur, Jamie Sanchez had offered to cater the banquet for free. Sanchez owns the Lauriol Plaza, and Cactus Cantina restaurants.
Hats off to the small army of volunteers who served up 60 plates of food, up four flights of stairs to the crowd of Vets and visually impaired athletes and their families. I had the honor of speaking about every athlete individually, and handing out the 2nd Annual BVA Blind Hockey Weekend trophies. It’s my honor to get to work with you guys, to sharpen your skills, and hopefully make you a stronger and more productive person.
With a full stomach and a lot of great memories the Vets headed to the rink for the championship match. After deciding which out of town athletes would play on each team, the stage was set for another epic showdown with the Washington Elite vs the Hartford Baillers. After standing for our National Anthem and doing the ceremonial puck drop, the athletes began the exciting fast paced blind hockey championship match!
One of the notable Elite / Braillers trades was local blind hockey star, George Opie. Opie is a lawyer with the Patent and Trademark office in Old Town, Alexandria, and a father of three young hockey stars. I have been working with George for over a year, and all those practices are really starting to pay off.
Ten minutes into the 1st period George Opie and Hartford Braillers star forward, Keith Haley entered the Washington Elite defensive zone. They were able to get behind blinded Veteran defensemen, Lawrence Harrison to setup the play. A perfect pass from Opie in front of the net was caught by Haley who lifted the puck shooting over blinded Veteran goalie Manny Rivas and scoring the goal. It was 1-0 Hartford Braillers!
After the first period the athletes drank some water, and got prepared to battle out the rest of the game. The 2nd period was scoreless as Manny Rivas, and the Braillers star goalie, Liz Bottner made spectacular save after save. Blinded Veteran Jim Sadecki played the best he’s every played, completely controlling the Braillers defensive zone working the puck around the boards and even skating up past the mid line. This is Sadecki’s 2nd BVA Blind Hockey Weekend, he plays hockey with nothing but two prosthetic eyes.
The 3rd period was even more intense than the first two as Washington Elite battled to score while holding the Braillers to their one goal. But “Shut Out Liz” lived up to her name and didn’t allow a single puck past her. The final score was Hartford 1, Washington 0. The Braillers had won the BVA Blind Hockey Cup, and bragging rights for the year!
Jim Sadecki and Carson Sadecki in the 1932 Olympic Rink Lake Placid
“In Life Every Man Dies… But Not Every Man Lives…Here is to Life and Living! Enjoying this Awesome ride and excited to see what the future has in store!”
-James Jay Sadecki aka Big Jim
I’m excited too, Big Jim. We’re gonna get blind hockey into the Paralympic Games, and have a hell of a great time doing it!
The 1st Annual BVA Lake Placid Blind Hockey Invitational brought together Blinded Veterans and visually impaired athletes from across the country. They all made the trek by plane and car up into the Adirondack’s, to the Olympic Village in Lake Placid for an epic adventure. They came because Bruce Porter had organized a national blind hockey training camp at the Olympic Training Center, and the Saranac Lake Civic Center.
Early Start For The Vets
Bulat Hall setting up blind hockey nets for BVA Lake Placid Blind Hockey Invitational
The Vets and Coach Bruce left from BVA headquarters at 4am the day before Thanksgiving. It rained the whole way to New York City, and then the rain turned to snow as they headed upstate. The team was in the Olympic Village by 1pm. With lots to do Coach Bruce dropped off the Vets, and took the nets to the Saranac Lake Civic Center with Bulat.
With many of the athletes arriving on Thanksgiving Day the BVA and Washington Elite team had to make sure they had the holiday spread, so they stopped by the grocery store on the way back to the house ensuring they had all the needed supplies. That night the athletes and volunteers dined together at the house, they had plans to skate at the Olympic Training Center the next morning.
Thanksgiving morning the team suited up to join the Olympic Training Center’s Skating Director, Karen Cortland on the ice. After working with Karen, Porter was able to get some additional dedicated blind hockey ice from the OTC at 12 noon that day. So the team headed back to the house to eat some lunch before hitting the Olympic ice.
At 12 noon the BVA Blind Hockey Washington Elite team hit the Olympic ice with pucks for the 1st time. They shared a live video, took photos, and worked on their hockey skills.
Bruce Porter and Bulat Hall prepare Thanksgiving dinner in Olympic Village Lake Placid
After skating the team relaxed while Porter and Hall continued the Thanksgiving dinner preparations. Couple of turkeys and hams, fixings et al for 30 athletes plus volunteers slated to join them later that day.
The Cavalry has arrived as Ret. Army Grandpa Rishell enters Lake Placid kitchen
The Bateman family was the first to arrive, with retired Army Grandpa Rishell in tow. Grandpa Rishell was instrumental in getting the Thanksgiving dinner finished and served up to the troops!
I know I always say it, but the United States Military continues to produce the most capable set of men and women on earth. It’s a real honor to work with these people, it’s my high honor. Thank you.
It all Starts with Learn To Skate
BVA Washington Elite Learn to Skate at Lake Placid
Next morning we woke up early and met the rest of the team at the Saranac Lake Civic Center. The media was on hand for the event, along with US Figure Skating’s Learn to Skate media director Mimi Mckinnis. Mckinnis. The US Figure Skating’s Learn to Skate program has been very supportive of Porter and the Blinded Veterans Association’s initiative into blind ice skating. Blinded Veterans Big Jim Sadecki and Lawrence Harrison posed for photos with Mimi, who had snuck away from Skate America 2017 to meet the team in person.
Big Jim Sadecki with US Figure Skating’s Mimi Mckinnis
Lawrence Harrison with US Figure Skating’s Mimi Mckinnis
After handling the media, US Figure Skating, skating and hockey drills the athletes jumped into an exciting blind hockey match! On one line they had St. Louis up and coming star, Nick Silver on right wing with Hartford Braillers superstar, Keith Haley on the left. Blinded Veteran, Washington Elite sensation Jacked Belony took the face off for the historic match.
Carsen Sadecki, Jim Sadecki, Lawrence Harrison, Mia Belony, Jackes Belony at top of Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run Lake Placid
After the match the team headed back for a quick shower and lunch, they had a date with destiny at 2pm on top of Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run. None of the athletes or volunteers had ever been on an Olympic bobsled run before. Porter knew blind bobsled was possible because during his time training ice dance in Lake Placid he worked with The Regional Olympic Development Authority (ORDA) on the bobsled runs. He was able to ride the bobsled and luge runs many times.
Blinded Veterans Sends Washington Elite Blind Hockey Team Down Lake Placid Olympic Bobsled Run
The Olympic Authority was ready for the team as they arrived. Riding the bobsled is like nothing you’ve ever done before, it makes a roller coaster look like the kiddie pool. Porter worked closely with ORDA to have a professional bobsled driver and brakeman on each sled in order to safely bring the team down the mountain. After sending the team down Porter hopped on the last bobsled with the live feed still rolling, videoing the ride down Mt. Van Hoevenberg.
That. Was. AWESOME!
Representing the NY Nightshades Blind Hockey Club, Blaise Bryant hanging out after the bobsled run
That evening most of the team met at the house, Bruce and volunteers had prepared another feast. There was plenty of food, and plenty of stories! The athletes spoke of their accomplishments that day, and told of their plans for tomorrow.
10am the next morning they were on the ice again at the Saranac Lake Civic Center. Porter had everything ready, including the vibrating blind puck prototype and speakers at both nets to help the totally blind athletes. With the help of volunteers Bulat Hall, Michael Haley, and Carsen Sadecki the practice was a huge success!
BVA Blind Hockey Washington Elite Lake Placid
Some of the BVA Blind Hockey Washington Elite team met up in the Olympic Village
After practice the team headed back to shower, eat and meet up in the Olympic Village. Porter let everyone know this was the time to buy souvenirs, take photos, and enjoy all Lake Placid has to offer. It was impossible to miss the BVA / Washington Elite hats and hockey jerseys as the athletes converged in the historic village.
Blinded Veteran Lawrence Harrison poses in Budweiser Bobsled with Jackes Belony’s daughter Mia
Photos with the Budweiser Bobsled were a hit, but as the light dwindled so did the temperature. The athletes headed back to eat, and prepare for their evening activities. Big Jim Sadeckim and others went to the 1980 Olympic Arena and enjoyed the best figure skating in the world. The Skate America competition was in town, it’s one of the reasons Porter chose this week to come to Lake Placid. The Olympic Village is always more fun with a bunch of figure skaters running around.
Championship Match At Olympic Training Center
Emme Porter and Bruce Porter competing in Europe
The next morning Porter awoke very early. There’s nothing strange about that, but this morning he had a very special mission. Porter’s wife Emme, was supposed to join him on the trip to help out with the coaching and logistics. She was his ice dancing partner, and they coach together everyday. She runs the Learn to Skate program at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink in DC, as well.
Emme Porter – SLAPSHOT AND THE GREAT SKATE
Porter and his wife have crossed the globe together on blades, but for Emme this trip was unfortunately not meant to be. Emme is an accomplished skater, coach, a published author, and a former cheerleader+coach with the NHL Washington Capitals Red Rockers team. She was scheduled to coach the Skate America group number, and help the Skate America promotional Learn to Skate that morning.
Porter grabbed some coffee, waited for the right moment, and headed into the Olympic Training Center. The team had ice in Saranac Lake at 10am, but Porter wanted to get the championship match on the Olympic ice and he had a plan.
Bruce Porter gets BVA Blind Hockey Washington Elite Championship Match on the Olympic Ice
In life if you are not moving forward you are moving backwards, because the rest of the world is moving forward. Porter walked into the OTC and saw an official looking man standing by the Olympic ice with a clipboard. He introduced himself and told the man about the Blinded Veterans Association’s initiative in blind sports, and how he had a blind hockey team in the Olympic Village. While speaking with the gentlemen Porter was able to look at the clipboard, it was indeed the official Olympic ice schedule! AND – Porter could see there was an hour of free ice time at 1:30pm that day.
Turns out the guy was an OTC manager, and he was also a Veteran. Porter explained how his wife was supposed to be there that day helping to coach the Skate America Learn to Skate and group number, but was unable to come. Porter offered to come coach the group number and help with the Learn to Skate from 9:30am-11:30am if we could get the team on the Olympic ice at 1:30.
Bruce Porter was the best Snowplow Sam mascot EVER!
It took some time but after speaking with the rest of the OTC management team, the deal was struck. The Blinded Veterans Washington Elite Blind Hockey team would play their championship match on the Olympic ice! Porter sent out the information to the team, and cancelled the Saranac Lake ice time.
Big Jim Sadecki and Keath Haley pose with Snowplow Sam aka Bruce Porter at Olympic Training Center Lake Placid
When Porter told Big Jim Sadecki of the plan he was ecstatic! “What are you doing at 9:30am?” he asked. Porter let him know he wasn’t sure, and that he had told the OTC and US Figure Skating he would do whatever was needed in return for the ice time. “Let me know when you know”, said Sadecki. “Maybe we’ll come watch.”
When Porter met with US Figure Skating later that morning they asked if he could be the Snowplow Sam mascot.. “We are definitely coming to see this!” Sadecki said when he found out the plan. All those years of watching Emme cheer at the Caps games came in handy for Porter, as the NHL Capitals mascot Slapshot is one of the best in the league. Porter knew exactly how a mascot should act, he was the best Snowplow Sam anyone had ever seen!
Hartford Braillers center, Keith Haley poses with his Dad and volunteer Michael Haley at the Olympic Training Center before the championship match
After a costume change – and lunch it was time for the team to meet at the Olympic Center for the championship match. The call time was 1pm, and many of the athletes had come early to make sure to get their photos with the Olympic rings in the background.
Hartford Braillers Keith Haley and LA Blind Hockey’s Roland Romero drop the gloves on the Olympic Ice!
I’ll do just about anything for these guys, it just doesn’t matter. Commented Porter on he was the Snowplow Sam mascot to get the team on the Olympic ice. The management at the Olympic Training Center was phenomenal. They brought out the hockey nets, hung the Blinded Veterans Association’s banner – and an exciting blind hockey game ensued. There were a lot of folks at the OTC because of Skate America. It was a really great showing for the BVA, Washington Elite and blind hockey.
Video BVA Blind Hockey Lake Placid Championship Match
Washington Elite Blind Hockey Bench at the BVA Lake Placid Championship Match
After the match the team posed for photos then met in the locker room. OTC skating director Karen Courtland had donated some trophies, and Porter had some words for the athletes. It’s a real honor to get to work with you guys, to share in your journey to the Paralympic Games. I know some of you may never get to play in a Paralympic qualifying match, or a World Championship game. But what we are doing is something very special. It’s not to be taken lightly. I have a lot of respect for you guys, you are all WINNERS! BVA Sports Upcoming Schedule
We are about to embark on another historic journey, doing things that few people have ever done before. We are pushing the limits of our sport, and future Paralympic sports. This is just the beginning, folks. We will continue our journey building Blind Hockey, taking it places it’s never been before. I’m working on something very special for March.
While on our travels stay sharp – please listen very closely to myself, and the volunteers. These are times when being sloppy could cause injury, or worse.
Please use the checklist below to ensure you have everything needed and are dressed appropriately for the Adirondack conditions. Bring a few outfits as it snows often in Lake Placid and with some of our activities we may get wet, and sweat. Expect to need multiple outfits per day.