2018 BVA Blind Hockey Weekend
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 performances what sticks out most in my mind is the experience. It’s the midnight dinners with my wife in Paris, the rickshaw bike carriage 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 led 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 Goalball 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, a blinded Veteran from Los Angeles played his first game as a goal tender. He brought three other athletes from his newly formed team – the LA Quake Blind Hockey Club.
Navy Yard Learn To Skate
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 the Learn To Skate followed by an open 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 known Washington restaurateur, 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 recognizing 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. 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. He’s become one of the top blind hockey players in the country, and I can’t wait for him to beat up on everyone at the USA Hockey Disabled Festival this April.
Ten minutes into the 1st period Opie and Hartford Braillers star forward, Keith Haley entered the Washington Elite defensive zone. Blinded Veteran defensemen, Lawrence Harrison played the body pushing Opie away from the goal. A perfect centering 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 match. 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.
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.
You could feel the intensity in the air as the Elite battled to score shooting over and over again. Star Blinded Veteran forward, Jackes Belony worked the puck in the offensive zone, running plays with Grej Pesjaka. Pesjaka came with Blinded Veteran Manny Rivas, as part of the newly formed LA Quake team. In the end VA employee, “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!
All of the hockey equipment, time on the ice, coaching and opportunities to learn to skate and play blind hockey are provided to visually impaired Veterans through an Adaptive Sports Grant from the VA, and funds raised by the BVA. We hope to build ten strong teams in the coming year as we train visually impaired athletes nationwide.