Marking a triumph state-side, Lacombe area resident Dustin Butterfield was thrilled to be on Team Canada for the Canadian vs. USA Blind Ice Hockey Series in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“It was incredible with the three wins – lots of passion, lots of emotion – and it’s always good to beat the USA,” said Butterfield with a chuckle of the event, which was held this past weekend.
“We had a practice on Friday morning and played Team USA that afternoon, then again on Saturday and then in the morning on Sunday. And we managed to win every game,” he said.
“It was a pretty amazing thing, particularly after the third game when it’s all over,” he added.
“It’s just an incredible feeling.”
Not that there weren’t a few challenges that popped up along the way.
“Take the five best blind hockey players in Canada, who, in 2019 were all on Team Canada. For this year, there were two of them who took the year off. Then our team captain, who is the second or third best player in Canada, got hurt in the first period of the first game in this tournament,” he explained.
“And then another one of our best lower-vision players hurt his back just before the tournament, so he did about three shifts in the third period of the first game just to try it – but that’s all he could do because his back was so bad.”
Then in the third period of the last game, another strong player was injured so had to sit the remainder out.
Still, through sheer skill and loads of determination, the guys came out on top.
“To be with that group – we are like family; a team of a close-knit family with a lot of positive reinforcement going on,” he said.
“Our coaches were excellent, too. We had four coaches, and they all had their roles. They were very invested in everything and very positive. So it was just an amazing feeling when you can go in as a team and compete at that level.”
Meanwhile, his passion for all things hockey was sparked early on.
“I played minor hockey from about the age of five or six until I was 11,” said Butterfield, who has a genetic eye disease that has left him partially sighted with some peripheral vision.
Raised in Stettler County, he launched into rodeo for a time during his youth, but hockey was never off the radar.
In 2017, he made a key connection – he attended a dinner for Fighting Blindness Canada in Edmonton, and met a couple of guys who played on a blind hockey team there.
“Before that, I hadn’t even heard of such a thing – I had no idea about the noisy medal puck,” he added with a laugh.
Later that fall, he took part in a Leduc blind hockey tournament. Two games into that, he was absolutely hooked, he said.
“Ever since, I don’t think I’ve missed an event,” said Butterfield, who now lives on an acreage east of Lacombe with his family. “I’ve been to Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax multiple times for tournaments and various things.”
According to Canadian Blind Hockey, “The sport uses some modified rules and equipment, most notably the adapted puck that makes noise and is larger than a traditional puck.
“At the recreational level, all athletes must be visually impaired, while at the competitive level all players must be classified as legally blind, which is defined as having approximately ten percent vision or less.”
Another difference from regular hockey is that the nets are slightly lower, too. But really, there are very few differences, he explained. “It has all of the same rules, with just a few adaptations.”
A few years ago, Butterfield took part in a video called Our Community, Blind Hockey. It’s a compelling look from AMI: Accessible Media Inc., into the sport and he was very pleased to be a part of it. It also explores what the team ‘Central Alberta Bullseye Blind Hockey’ – which Butterfield created and currently facilitates – is all about.
As to the sport in general, Butterfield wants more potential members to consider giving it a try.
And that’s really part of the mission of the Central Alberta Bullseye Blind Hockey team. There’s nothing like the camaraderie that being part of this group brings, he added.
“The ‘people factor’ is a big thing,” he said. “You meet all of these people who are having challenges – some similar to yours and some different. It’s amazing to meet them and to hear all of their stories.”
He also finds tremendous fulfillment through his role with the team.
“It’s about the excitement of the great game of hockey. You’re on a team, you are playing – and there is so much about it (to improve) your physical and mental health, too.
“Come and try it – you might think it’s the greatest thing on the planet!”
For more, find ‘Central Alberta Bullseye Blind Hockey’ on Facebook.