Blinded Veterans at Olympic Center - Lake Placid, NY
by Bruce Porter
The 1st Annual BVA Lake Placid Blind Hockey Invitational event brought together blinded veterans and visually impaired athletes from across the country to the Adirondack Mountains during the Thanksgiving weekend. They came for a national blind hockey training camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center (OTC) and the Saranac Lake Civic Center in upstate New York.
Early Start for the Vets
On Thanksgiving morning the team suited up to join the Olympic Training Center’s Skating Director, Karen Cortland on the ice. The day was spent getting familiar with the ice and honing their hockey skills. At the end of the day athletes and volunteers shared a Thanksgiving dinner.
BVA member Jim Sadecki giving words of encouragement to the Washington Elite Blind Hockey Bench at the BVA Lake Placid Championship Match in Lake Placid, New York.
Early Start for the Vets
Next morning, everyone met at the Saranac Lake Civic Center. We were pleased to see the media present for the event, along with US Figure Skating’s Learn to Skate Media Director Mimi McKinnis. The US Figure Skating’s Learn to Skate program has been very supportive of the Blinded Veterans Association’s blind skating initiative. Blinded veterans Jim Sadecki and Lawrence Harrison posed for photos with Mimi, who had snuck away from Skate America 2017. to meet the team in person.
Afterwards, the athletes participated in an exciting blind hockey match! They had St. Louis’s up and coming star, Nick Silver on right wing with Hartford Braillers superstar, Keith Haley on the left. Blinded Veteran, Washington Elite sensation Jackes Belony took the face off for the historic match.
Following the hockey match, the team had a date with destiny at the top of Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run. None of the athletes or volunteers had ever been on an Olympic bobsled run before. I knew blind bobsledding was possible because during my time training ice dance in Lake Placid I worked with The Regional Olympic Development Authority (ORDA) on the bobsled runs. I was able to ride the bobsled and luge runs many times.
The Olympic Authority was ready for the team as they arrived. I 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. Riding a bobsled is like nothing you’ve ever done before, it makes a roller coaster look like a kiddie ride.
Blinded Veterans Explore Lake Placid
The next morning, we were on the ice again at the Saranac Lake Civic Center. I 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!
After practice the team met up in the Olympic Village 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.
Photos with the Budweiser Bobsled were a hit, but as the light dwindled so did the temperature. The athletes headed back to prepare for their evening activities. Big Jim Sadecki and others went to the 1980 Olympic Arena and enjoyed watching the best figure skating in the world.
Championship Match at the Olympic Center
The next morning I awoke very early and headed into the Olympic Training Center. The team had ice time on Saranac Lake at 10am, but I wanted to get the championship match on the Olympic ice and I had a plan to make this happen.
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.
I walked into the OTC and saw an official looking man standing by the Olympic ice with a clipboard. He introduced himself and I told him about the Blinded Veterans Association’s initiative in blind sports, and that there was a blind hockey team in the Olympic Village right now. While speaking with the gentlemen I was able to look at his clipboard, and see that it was indeed the official Olympic ice schedule! AND – I 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. I had learned that the Learn to Skate Program was short a coach so I offered to help with the Learn to Skate program in exchange for Olympic ice time at 1:30 that afternoon. It took some time but the deal was eventually struck. The Blinded Veterans Washington Elite Blind Hockey team would play their championship match on the Olympic ice!
I sent out the information to the team, and cancelled the Saranac Lake ice time. Team members were ecstatic when they heard the news. When I met with US Figure Skating later that morning they asked if I could be the Snowplow Sam mascot. All those years of watching my wife Emme cheer at the Washington Capitals games came in handy for me, as the NHL Capitals mascot Slapshot is one of the best in the league. I knew exactly how a mascot should act. I was the best Snowplow Sam anyone had ever seen!
After a costume change –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.
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.
After the match the team posed for photos and then met in the locker room. OTC skating director Karen Courtland had donated some trophies. I said “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 Program Blinded Veteran Jackes Belony Takes Faceoff (right) As Director Bruce Porter Drops Blind Hockey Puck To Start The Game In Lake Placid.
BVA Blind Hockey 2018 Schedule
BVA New Year’s Cup in Hartford, CT Jan 5-7
BVA Blind Hockey weekend in Washington DC Feb 1-4
BVA European Cup in Europe March 21-26
USA Hockey Disabled Festival in Chicago April 1-6