There were handshakes and embraces, much like the way any other hard-fought hockey series would end.
Only on this day, the handshakes didn’t always line up, but no one seemed to mind, they all laughed and smiled, even if most of the players couldn’t see them.
It was pure joy all around for members of the Central Alberta Bullseye Blind Hockey club, who played their first-ever organized blind hockey game Saturday for visually impaired players at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre against a combination of the Calgary Seeing Ice Dogs and Edmonton Seehawks.
“It’s a dream come true. I was playing for a couple years, just too far away from Calgary and Edmonton. I played one game up there. Other than that I was only skating locally and playing with a few sighted players. This is great to get the team started,” said Dustin Butterfield, 37, who founded the Bullseye last year.
While the visitors may have picked up a narrow 3-2 victory on the scoreboard after a shootout for fun, of course, it didn’t seem to matter too much to anyone who played– it was simply about the fact they finally got to play the game they love, with no restrictions.
Butterfield said last year his original goal was to get 8-10 visually impaired players from Central Alberta, so they could play other teams. After a number of ice times this fall, they finally got to play a game.
“We’re still pretty small, but we have one player, Stu, who played hockey and coached hockey. He’s on the team and returned to hockey after a long absence because he’s got lower vision. Cory, he’s brand new, never played hockey. He’s made nine for nine ice times, that’s making the dream come true when they rediscover hockey,” Butterfield said.
“I knew there’d be a few guys out there and hopefully there’s a few more.”
They also played an outdoor game Saturday night, all in the name of getting players prepared for the Canadian National Blind Hockey Tournament in Toronto, from March 26-29. Butterfield has attended the tournament before and said it really helped reinvigorate his love for the game.
“I’ve lived it myself. I hadn’t put my gear on for eight years until I started playing blind hockey in 2017 and just the experience, playing the game, but also you’re playing tournaments and interacting and you’re going out for a beer with all these guys who know your story,” he said.
“And no one else necessarily in your community and family total understands the challenges. You hear their stories and some are doing good and some are having some challenges. The off-ice stuff at those tournaments is just as good as on ice.”
Also on hand was a crew from Accessible Media Inc., who are following the Bullseye’s story and will be producing a short documentary about the team later this year.
To find out more about blind hockey and the Bullseye, check out www.canadianblindhockey.com or the Central Alberta Bullseye Blind Hockey Facebook page.