(light music) - Most people are like, "How is that possible?
How can blind people play hockey?"
They see us with our canes, and they're like, "That doesn't sound safe."
(chuckling) (light music) (engine roaring) (rattling) (whistle blowing) (laughing) - Being that my vision disability is glaucoma, I have no peripheral vision.
I don't see left, right, up or down, and Sietska doesn't see straight ahead with her Stargardt's disease.
So she can see peripheral.
(light music) When you look at our vision disabilities and put 'em together, I like to say, "We have the perfect vision."
(dark music) I grew up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and then we moved to Connecticut when I was 10.
(light music) So there was a lake across the street from us, Lake Garda, and that's where I learned how to skate.
I just grabbed a pair of skates.
Actually, (chuckling) they were my sister's figure skates 'cause I didn't have hockey skates at the time, but I just went and kind of figured it out.
The bigger kids were always playing pond hockey, so I'd asked to join, and that's kind of how I got into ice hockey.
I started playing hockey probably around the age of four or five, and I played until about maybe nine or 10.
- A lot of things get taken from you.
I always tell people independence is the first thing.
You have to start relying on other people to help you do things.
There were times when I was having my eye surgeries, people would have to write checks out for me, pay my bills, 'cause I wasn't able to see enough to write anything or read anything.
- When I was first diagnosed around the age of six, they pretty much told me, "You're probably never gonna be able to drive a car."
So I was already getting my freedom ripped away from me at a very young age.
(feet stepping) (door rolling and clanging) - Blind hockey fell in my lap, I would say.
I received an email from Board of Ed and Services for the Blind here in Connecticut.
We call it BESB, and it referenced blind hockey, and I guess just like everyone else, "What is blind hockey, what does this entail?"
(light music) (wheels rumbling) (metal screeching) So I answered the email, and he told me about a team that were playing out of Newburg, New York.
It's about a two-hour drive from where I live here in Farmington.
I said, "Okay, I'm gonna go and check this out," and I did, and we had about 15 people, numerous volunteers, and at the end of that practice, we had a group photo.
Someone just blurted out, "We're the Hartford Braillers."
Once you heard that name, it was a no-brainer after that.
Connecticut was once home to the Hartford Whalers, and now we're carrying on as the Hartford Braillers.
(car whooshing) (door slamming and clanking) - Thank you.
- Thank you.
- All right.
- It was a good 15 to 20 years since I had skated.
I was 25 when I kind of hung the skates up.
There was a little falling down on the ice, but just to get back on the ice and realize that the sport I grew up playing, the sport I had a passion for and my blindness colliding.
This gave me hockey back.
It was almost like, "Okay, you can take my vision, but you can't take everything from me," and when it gave me hockey back, it kind of gave my life back.
(light music) (people chattering) - [Sietska] Keith is my boyfriend, and actually, we met through blind hockey.
I still love it.
I get excited.
I can't wait to get my gear on and get in the locker room and get out on the ice.
I am from a little fishing community from Maine called Harpswell, and when I first found out about blind hockey, it was the Hartford Braillers.
I was able to get a friend to drive us four hours to Connecticut for our first blind hockey practice, and ever since then, we've gotten closer over the years, going to the tournaments and stuff, and we found out we have a lot in common.
It's just, it's a freedom.
You fly around out there, and nothing stops you.
(upbeat music) (sticks and puck scraping) So there are a few modifications in blind hockey.
The puck, for example, is about 5 1/2 inches across, and it's made out of this thick metal, and it's got ball bearings inside so it kind of rattles like a cowbell (upbeat music) (puck scraping) so we can track it by sound.
The nets are also about a foot shorter than your traditional nets because the goalies, since they're totally blind, are down in the butterfly position sort of.
So the nets are a little bit shorter to kind of adjust for that.
(upbeat music) (feet stepping) - There's definitely adjustments you have to make along the way, just to make your life easier, putting your clothes in a certain order.
We always know where our stuff is.
When I go into my refrigerator, I know where the ketchup is.
- I definitely need a lot of color contrast on the ice and off ice because my vision is just extremely blurry.
So colors sort of blend together, like if it's white and off white.
(food crunching) My mom convinced me that culinary arts might be a good program for me to go into, and at first I kind of laughed, and I was like, "Culinary arts?"
I'm like, "So cooking?"
I ended up getting a job at a local hotel, and turned out, I was their new banquet chef for the next four years of my life, but it really wasn't until I got into culinary where I kind of really started accepting who I was and accepting my disability (food sizzling) as like, "Well, this is who I am," because I felt like people around me in the kitchen didn't look at me as disabled.
They were just like, "I'm a normal person.
I just don't see as well as everybody else."
(light music) - In Canada, they've been playing blind hockey since the seventies.
I don't know why it took so long to get to the US, but it wasn't till six, seven years ago when it first hit the US.
The word is starting to spread, and we need to, as Blind Hockey players, continue to spread that word so that, when I hung those skates up for 15 to 20 years, I could have been playing blind hockey for 15 to 20 years, and our goal for blind hockey nationally is to make it to the Paralympics, and we're gonna be there someday.
You need four teams to hold a world championship, and you need eight countries to petition to become a paralympic sport.
So that's why it's still a work in progress - As far as I've seen in my life, it's more than just a sport.
It really brings people together, and it's like a whole other family.
You get together, and you all come do this, get on the ice together and something you love to do.
It's a whole different community of people.
(light music) - People talk about the American dream, and the American dream means different things to different people.
You want the house.
You want a spouse, a companion to live your life with.
For me and Sietska, we're fortunate that we found each other through our vision disability and a sport that we both love.
You realize that, no matter what your vision loss is, whether it's total blindness or you have visual impairment, it shouldn't and doesn't impact who you are and what you do.
You are capable of doing so much more, and I learned that through blind hockey.
It's kind of funny.
I don't want my vision back.
I'm loving life just the way I am.
There's a whole world out there, blind or not.