Beyond Sight, Beyond Limits: Canadian Blind Hockey

Welcome to OMNI Hockey, where we bring you exclusive interviews with unique and interesting voices throughout the Canadian Hockey community.

Today, we’re honoured to welcome Luca Demontis, a pivotal member of the Canadian Blind Hockey team and the General Manager of the Canadian National Blind Hockey team, as he shares insights into the captivating world of blind hockey. Luca sheds light on the organization, the sport, and the growing Canadian National Blind Hockey Tournament.

Join us as we delve into the passion and dedication driving this incredible sport forward.


My name is Luca Demontis, I am the program manager of Canadian Blind Hockey and the General Manager of the Canadian National Blind Hockey team. Canadian Blind Hockey is a national non-for-profit registered charity that is a national sport organization for the parasport of blind hockey. Blind hockey is played by children, youth and adults who are blind and partially sighted from across the country.


Blind hockey was invented at the W. Ross McDonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ontario in 1936. So it was invented quite some time ago and of course in all places in Brantford, Ontario. So there’s a couple of very hockey monumental individuals that came from Brantford and it’s cool to know that the sport was also created in Brantford. At that point it was the founding of the Toronto Ice Owls in 1972 that became the first blind hockey team in the world to really bring this parasport to the arena and your community.


Canadian Blind Hockey was founded by Mark Demontis. Mark is my brother and at 17 years old he lost his vision to an optic neuropathy called Leber’s – LHON. And it was at that moment where Mark realized that children and youth who are born blind or partially sighted had no opportunity to play our nation’s game. So very quickly Mark founded Courage Canada which evolved into Canadian Blind Hockey.


Canadian Blind Hockey is a charity that changes the lives of children, youth and adults who are blind and partially sighted by providing blind hockey program including tribe-line hockey sessions, development camps, regional and national competitions and by supporting our Canadian National Blind Hockey teams. The parasport of blind hockey is played by athletes whose level of vision from legally blind which is approximately 10% vision to completely blind using an adaptive puck that makes noise and is bigger than a traditional puck.


Blind hockey is the same fast-paced game that we all love and watch on TV. However, to make the game accessible for children, youth and adults who are blind and partially sighted, we did have to make a few adaptations to the game. And these adaptations were made through all our amazing meetings with our incredible stakeholders. The player’s voice is so important to us. So a few of the minor adaptations that we made are so important to make the game inclusive and accessible.


For example, our puck. Our puck is larger than a traditional puck. It’s made of hollow steel and inside the puck there’s eight ball bearings. So as the puck moves around the ice, the ball bearings act as an echo allocation noise so the players can track it on the ice. No two players have the same vision so it’s really important that this puck is making the noise so the players can find it on the ice.

Another adaptation is our nets. Our nets compared to the traditional hockey nets that are four feet in height, ours are three feet in height because when the puck is in the air it doesn’t make noise. So we really listened to the goalies on this one and they’ve really provided some great feedback and of course you always want to keep your goalies happy. We took off the top foot of the net and we noticed that the scores in games were a lot more reasonable and a lot more like a hockey game score. So that was very important.

Another cool adaptation in blind hockey is our uniforms. So in traditional hockey one team will always wear a white colour jersey while the other team will wear a dark colour jersey. However, since the ice and the boards are both primarily white, this format does not work for our visually impaired players. Therefore, you will always see one team wear yellow jerseys and the other team will wear a dark jersey such as a red or a black or a blue. It’s so important to have this bright yellow jersey as a contrast for the players so they are able to notice a difference between a white jersey on the ice and the boards which really wouldn’t fly so well with us and our community.

And then another adaptation, and I truly love this adaptation. I think it makes the game so important is the one pass rule. So when the attacking team is attacking and they get into the offensive zone, they must make one successful pass to their teammate. Once that pass is made and received, the referee will blow a high pitch whistle. What that whistle does is it indicates the defensive team and the goalies who are completely blind that the next shot can end up in the back of the net. For the goalies, since they are completely blind, when the puck’s in their defensive zone and there’s no pass made, they don’t know if their team has the puck or the offensive team has the puck. So this allows the goalies and defensive team to really know, okay, the pass was just made, we really need to bunker down now and either block a shot, make a save or get it out of our zone. So it’s super important and it really kind of builds the whole camaraderie of a team. I have been privileged to see some amazing goals in blind hockey because of this rule. And I think that’s one thing that really separates blind hockey from traditional hockey is that very rarely will you ever see an unassisted goal. It truly depicts how important teamwork is and you’ll never see a player wind up from behind their net and just dangle everybody and tuck the puck in. That’s impossible to have in blind hockey. You really have to make that one pass to score.


Canadian Blind Hockey has evolved over the years in many different ways. We have more participants playing the game now than we ever have. At our very first National Blind Hockey Tournament in 2013, we had 40 players. At our most recent 2024 National Blind Hockey Tournament, we celebrated our 10-year anniversary and we celebrated with over 200 players and volunteer coaches. So the growth has been remarkable, but the reason for growth is all the dedication of the players, the organization, the board and all our amazing volunteers. Hosting these tribe-wide hockey programs across the country give these children, youth and adults the opportunity to get on the ice, to play the game, to develop their skills and to play the game at the national level at our tournaments. Canadian blind hockey hosts yearly regional tournaments, our western regional, our eastern regional, our flagship national blind hockey tournament and our summer development camp, which is always a fun time where players get on the ice for over 10 hours of instruction, scrimmages and workshops.


The 2024 Canadian National Blind Hockey tournament was our biggest tournament today. We had over 200 players and volunteer coaches take part in this memorable weekend. It is always a weekend that players have circled on their calendar from the moment we announce the weekend. And I think it’s so special because it really brings the community together. As an organization, we feel that it’s very important to have the community represented on all levels and all stages, including all divisions. So it’s super exciting that we are able to host a children’s division, a youth division, a low development division, an open division and then our select series, which featured 10 players that were named to the Canadian national blind hockey team. And it also had players trying out to make the remaining seven spots and three goalie positions. So it was a very busy, fun weekend with a lot of blind hockey action. It was played at the Mattamy Athletic Center, formerly known as Maple Leaf Gardens, one of the most iconic arenas in the world in history. So a lot of the players really do have a lot of fun playing in that building with the history in there. And sometimes it’s even funnier when you see the youth parents a lot more excited than the youth because the youth might not know all the history in there. We do try to teach them a little bit about it, but it’s always exciting when you see a father or a mother remembering where they watched a very historic game in that city.


One thing we do as an organization is we draft players onto teams. So as an organization, we create fairly as best as we can, evenly skilled rosters. And what’s so cool about that is on any given team, you’ll have players from across the country playing together. But also now as the tournament grows, there’s participants from around the world. So we had participants come in from England. We had participants coming from Finland, USA and Canada. So those four countries represented. And I think that’s a huge testament to the growth of the sport, but also a bigger testament to the community, the players, their dedication. Flying across the pond to take part in a three day tournament really shows how dedicated they are to the sport and the growth of the sport.


The Canadian National Blind Hockey Tournament is so important. I think it’s more important of the impact we make off the ice than actually on the ice. On the ice is the fun part- players playing the sport they love of blind hockey. Off the ice, it’s so important to see the relationships that are fostered. And friendships that are made because of the sport. Many of these individuals that play in this tournament have never played on a team in their life. So it’s super cool when they get together and they make a new friend from a different part of the country and now even a different part of the world. But what this all stems is these relationships are all stemmed through blind hockey, their love for the game. But what I think and I know our organization is very proud on is these individuals now have a time at our tournament to not only build these relationships, but they’re able to have a fostering sound board where they could talk to other individuals that are going through those same life challenges because of their disability. And it doesn’t just stop with the participants. It even extends to the parents and our children and youth division. A lot of the parents have always come up to me and be like, I’m never going to know if my son or daughter is going to get a job or go to post-secondary education or ever start a family. And then they come to our tournament and they see the participants in the low vision development division, the open division in the select series. And they’re like, wow, Kelly Serbu is a judge in Nova Scotia, or Sean Dale is a teacher at the W. Ross School for the Blind. These players are role models beyond their years.


So I think, and I know from our organization standpoint, a lot of planning goes into this tournament, but it’s worth every second of the planning we do. And I think it’s something that is so important not only for the organization, but for every participant that we’re able to let them feel like a professional hockey player for that weekend, despite their disability of vision loss. They’re able to get on the ice, skate up and down the wing, shoot the puck as fast and as hard as some of their professional idols and let them know that we have a safe environment for them to be part of the game.


Our Girls and Women’s Blind hockey programs are our fastest growing program. We’ve hosted three very successful Girls and Women’s Summits, the most successful being the one that recently just recently took place in 2024.

We were so fortunate and lucky to partner with the PWHL Toronto team where our girls got to get on the ice with Coach Troy Ryan and his team and go through a practice and have lunch together and feel like a professional women hockey player. So it’s super important for our organization to continue to grow this program and we’ve noticed a large number of growth. Over 30% of the participants, Girls and Women, at our national tournament, but that number keeps growing. At our summer development camp last year, I believe we were close to 50%, we’re Girls and Women. So we continue to find these avenues that we can not only develop, but we can grow within a stream of programming. So that’s very important for us. And of course, you know, a huge testament to our ambassador, Natalie Spooner, for helping get this off the ground. She always takes the time to come out to an event, to speak to the girls and to just be there to help answer questions.


The Parasport of Blind hockey has grown drastically over the last 10 years. To us, this proves that there’s a demand. And when there’s a demand, it’s because of the participants. The participants want to play the game. So it doesn’t matter if it’s a child, youth or an adult, if they’re blind and partially sighted, and they love the sport of hockey… They’ve fallen in love with blind hockey very quickly right after. As a matter of fact, seconds after they find out about it, we’ll get an email from somebody from a different country and say, “I want to play blind hockey. How do I get involved? How do I start?” And very quickly there, we’ll try to connect them with a champion in their country if there’s already a program established. And if there’s not a program established, that’s the fun part. That’s how do we create these programs in these new countries? If it’s outreach from a participant in Italy or a participant in Australia recently, those were two emails that I got that I was like, “Okay, this is cool. This is growth.” But with growth comes hard work. And as an organization of Canadian Blind Hockey, we’re dedicated to working hard in this sector to make sure that every child, youth, and adult who is blind and partially sighted that wants to play blind hockey will have the opportunity to play blind hockey.


Canadian Blind Hockey feels that it is important to have goals and aspirations. And we’ve got some big goals. We feel the sport is inclusive enough to be included in the Paralympic Games. However, when that inclusion will happen, we’re not sure. But we know that it is a goal in the future. But before we get there, we have to host the World Championships. And to host that, you have to have eight programs with national teams. So currently only Canada and USA have national team programs. This is some part of the framework that we’re currently helping these other countries build out is developing national team programs.


So as we try to grow this sport around the world and help grow it so we can one day play this game, this beautiful game of blind hockey at the Paralympics, there’s a lot of work that needs to get done before that. But we’re dedicated to get that work done and to help these new countries and established countries that have blind hockey programs build out their foundation to one day include a national team.


Canadian blind hockey is not possible without our amazing donors, supporters and funders, but also organizations that help us create awareness and spread awareness to their communities and to their participants and players. So to get involved with Canadian Blind Hockey, it’s so simple. Just visit our website. You can go through our website and learn more about the sport. You can learn about the adaptations and you can even learn about the history. But one thing that’s super important in our website is contacting us. If you want to get involved, if you want to coach, if you might know a participant that might be interested in trying the sport of blind hockey, please contact myself, or contact my team.


If you want to check out a game, you could head to our YouTube channel. We’ve got an archive of games from all our national tournaments and our international series. Or if it’s something so small as just heading over to our Instagram and seeing some photos and some interviews and some videos.


The sport right now is growing. And I think a huge testament to the growth is the awareness that we’re putting on social media as our goal is to target the smallest communities and the biggest cities across this country to let them know that blind hockey is played in this country. And it’s time to get behind your team and cheer them on.


Check out Canadian Blind Hockey’s website here

You can also visit their Youtube, Instagram and Facebook.

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