By David McCoy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — You can’t really be the State of Hockey unless you give everyone a chance to play. New this year, that now includes even those who can’t see.

David McCoy takes us to the Xcel Energy Center where the Wild have launched blind hockey.

It’s a weeknight in Minnesota, which means we’re at hockey practice, but this isn’t just any hockey practice. This is where the Wild play and where a bunch of kids who never thought they could are learning this game’s for them, too.

“It’s amazing. This is a group of individuals who probably never thought they’d get the chance to play hockey, and they’re out on the ice, with volunteers, shootin’ pucks, scorin’ goals and really just becoming a hockey team,” Toni Gillen said. “That’s what makes me happy.”

Gillen started the team this year after seeing it in other places like Pittsburgh, New York and Canada. Except for the volunteer coaches and student helpers, everyone on the ice is legally blind.

“I have no shortage of emails and phone calls and letters from all of our players, just saying how they never thought, with a visual impairment, that they’d be able to play hockey, and now their dream’s come true,” Gillen said.

Many of these kids are on the ice for the first time, practicing a game geared specifically for them. It’s hockey not by sight, but by sound.

“It’s pretty much the same game. The nets are going to be a little bit smaller, but the big difference is the puck,” Gillen said. “So the puck is almost the size of a dinner plate, and it’s made of metal and there’s eight ball bearings inside, so you can hear it. So it’s a very auditory game.”

“I like doing it,” one player said. “It’s a blast.”

The team is open to players of all ages, and they’ve got 18 already.

“Which is amazing for the first year. Every week I get another email or another phone call. We just want to make sure that, this is a game that, if you wanna get on the ice, it doesn’t matter what your abilities are, we wanna give you a chance to play,” Gillen said. “This is amazing. If you’ve ever wondered about the State of Hockey and how it embraces people, this is a really good example of it.”

David McCoy

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