Richard Redl says he had a blast playing in his first ever hockey game.
The 34-year-old Red Deer man was one of the visually impaired players from Alberta’s three blind hockey teams – Central Alberta Bullseye, Edmonton SeeHawks and Calgary Seeing Ice Dogs – who gathered to play in the Alberta Blind Hockey Challenge at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre on Saturday.
“It was everything I expected it to be and more,” Redl said of playing in his first game.
Redl has macular degeneration, which creates a loss of central vision. “So I only have peripheral vision,” he explained.
Additionally, he has cone-rod dystrophy, which affects colours and depth perception.
“I think it was my mom who told me about blind hockey. I started looking it up and I came across a mini-documentary on YouTube,” Redl said, adding that video was about the Central Alberta Bullseye and its founder Dustin Butterfield.
“I looked Dustin up on Facebook and found him there. We met from there and he introduced me to the sport.”
Blind hockey is played with a thin steel puck that is a five and a half inches wide and almost two inches tall, and contains ball bearings that rattle around inside and make noise.
This past October was the first time Redl had ever worn hockey equipment, though he did do some skating on outdoor rinks when he was younger.
“The first time I practiced was a nerve-wracking thing. I was going out to meet a bunch of people and play a game I’ve never played before. I was thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’” he said with a laugh.
“When I was getting started, there were times I had to put stuff on twice because I was putting it on wrong. But now I put a piece of tape on my left shin pad and my left elbow pad so I know it’s the left one when I pick it up.”
After meeting the players on the Central Alberta Bullseye, a lot of his nerves were alleviated.
“Everyone was so great and welcoming. It’s awesome off the ice, being around all of these guys. I’ve never been around other people who are in the same type of situation as me,” he said.
“Even seeing the way they use their phones and stuff like that is sort of therapeutic almost. It’s comforting. When you’re on the ice and you miss the puck, you’re not hard on yourself because everyone’s sort of doing the same thing. You just laugh about it. That’s the big thing – there are lots of laughs.”
Butterfield, who founded the Bullseye in 2019, said the team has six adult and two youth players.
The team will have one more practice this season and then some players from the Bullseye, as well as the SeeHawks and Seeing Ice Dogs, will head to Toronto for a blind hockey tournament.
“Part of the reason we had a game (Saturday) was to give people a bit of practice,” Butterfield said.
The Central Alberta Bullseye is always looking for visually impaired players interested in trying out blind hockey for next season, which will start in October. Visit the Central Alberta Bullseye Blind Hockey Facebook page for more information.
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