Big Apple Hosts Blind Hockey

by Bruce Porter

It was a bright sunny day as the BVA's Blind Hockey team gathered in New York City to help kick off the New York team, and play in a historic match. Program Director Bruce Porter led a group of 15 blinded Veterans, and other visually impaired athletes from Hartford Connecticut, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Washington, DC and New York to the center of the Big Apple. The group came to show the world our sports of Blind Hockey, and further the Parasport destined to headline the Paralympic Games.

Blinded Veteran Jim Sadecki rode the train down from Connecticut with some of his Hartford Braillers teammates in tow. Coach Bruce and the BVA helped start the Braillers Blind Hockey team with a Try Blind Hockey event last January. Porter will return to Connecticut this Jan. 5-6 hosting the 1st Annual New Year’s Cup.

Blinded Veterans Lawrence Harrison and Jackes Belony traveled with Coach Bruce Porter to support the event. Both athletes started ice skating and playing hockey as part of the sports program made possible by the Adaptive Sports grant BVA received from the VA. After a five hour trip from BVA Headquarters to NYC, they all settled into their hotels thinking of the day ahead.

First stop the next morning was the Wollman Rink, an outdoor ice surface in the center of Central Park. The athletes were greeted by an usher at the gate, and shown a special area to prepare in. Central Park was abuzz as the BVA's team of blind hockey players began to put on their hockey gear.

At high noon some of the top blind hockey players in America took the ice for warm up and drills. "The ice is great," Said Porter. "The puck moves a bit slower on outdoor ice, but the players are adapting well." Veterans Lawrence Harrison and Jackes Belony both learned how to skate at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink, so they were used to skating on outdoor ice.


BVA Program Director Bruce Porter preparing to drop the puck at center ice as the Hartford Braillers took on the Washington Elite in Central Park, NYC.

BVA Program Director Bruce Porter preparing to drop the puck at center ice as the Hartford Braillers took on the Washington Elite in Central Park, NYC.


After warming up the teams were divided with the new NY athletes playing for the Hartford Braillers and Pittsburgh athletes playing on the Washington Elite team. At 12:15 the two teams made history as a blind hockey puck dropped for the first time in Central Park, NYC. A brisk game ensued with both sides working the puck up and down the rink, passing, and taking shots on goal.

VA employee, Liz Botner, was in the goal representing the Hartford Braillers. Playing goal for Washington Elite was Ian Cohen, who traveled to NYC with hockey gear as part of the BVA's partnership with Leveling the Playing Field. This partnership allows the BVA to provide free hockey equipment to hundreds of visually impaired athletes across the country.

VA employee, Liz Botner, was in the goal representing the Hartford Braillers. Playing goal for Washington Elite was Ian Cohen, who traveled to NYC with hockey gear as part of the BVA's partnership with Leveling the Playing Field. This partnership allows the BVA to provide free hockey equipment to hundreds of visually impaired athletes across the country.

Jim Sadecki played defense for the Braillers, and Lawrence Harrison played defense for Washington Elite. Jackes Belony played center for Washington Elite, creating scoring opportunities using skills he's learned while playing with the BVA team this year.


BVA member Jackes Belony sitting against a fence staring intently at the action on the ice as he prepares to take on the Hartford Braillers in Central Park, NYC.

BVA member Jackes Belony sitting against a fence staring intently at the action on the ice as he prepares to take on the Hartford Braillers in Central Park, NYC.


After twenty minutes of play, the score was tied 0 - 0. Coach Bruce Porter blew the whistle and called a break, as the athletes were served water by the Wollman Rink staff. "Everyone give a hand for the Wollman Rink and their staff," Cried Porter, as the players banged their sticks against the ice and drank some water. "Without the Wollman Rink management, USA Hockey, and our partnership with US Figure Skating's Learn to Skate Program this would never have happened," Porter said.

At any given time there are a few hundred, to a thousand people on the barrier overlooking the Wollman Rink. There were likely over 10,000 people who saw the blind hockey showcase game throughout the match.

After a short break the teams met up at center ice for another 20 minutes of play. The second period of play was faster paced as the athletes became adjusted to the conditions. Braillers forward Keith Haley scored the first goal with an assist from Metro NY Blind Hockey's Anthony Caputo.

The action was intense as both teams tried to capitalize on their chances to score. Jackes Belony nearly had a goal for Washington Elite as teammate Emily Molchan centered the puck. Kenny and Kaleb Calhoun played their heart out, creating many scoring chances as they battled with the added brightness of the outdoor rink. In the end, Veteran Jim Sadecki's Braillers came out on top 3 - 0.

"We did it!" Yelled Porter as he blew his whistle bringing the game to an end. "Central Park! Remember this moment and hold it close to your heart. Remember for all time that it was you who made the journey to further your Parasport of Blind Hockey, play an epic game in the center of the Big Apple, and start the NYC Blind Hockey team!" The athletes shook hands and gathered for a group photo before leaving to prepare for the next event scheduled or that evening.

The next stop was Queens, where the group met up with NY Islanders player Steve Webb to kick off the Try Blind Hockey NYC event. You could feel the excitement in the air as folks from across the East Coast came together for the new Blind Hockey team in New York City! "It's so exciting to come to New York and help the Metro NY Blind Hockey Club get their team started," Said Veteran Lawrence Harrison. "Our efforts today will be appreciated by visually impaired athletes for years to come."

The event finished with another Hartford Braillers vs Washington Elite showcase game. After a group photo the BVA teams loaded up and headed back to the hotel. The next morning the BVA group gathered again at Rockefeller Center. "Skating at Rockefeller Center is one of my lifelong bucket list items," Said Jim Sadecki. The group skated, posted live videos and took photos before heading home.

The next stop for the BVA blind hockey stars is Lake Placid, NY this November 23-26. Porter will lead an ice skating and blind hockey clinic, as well as Try Blind Bobsled and Try Blind Luge events, testing the boundaries of future Paralympic sports.


BVA member and Hartford Bailler Jim Sadecki as the goal tender tracking down a puck during the event at Central Park, NYC.

BVA member and Hartford Bailler Jim Sadecki as the goal tender tracking down a puck during the event at Central Park, NYC.


The Annual BVA Blind Hockey Weekend will be held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Feb. 2-4. The event headlines with a Try Blind Hockey event Saturday, Feb 3rd 7:30pm followed by a historic matchup of USA vs Canada featuring top players from across North America.

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.

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