Blind Aboriginal Hockey Player Is a Sniper on the Ice
Whenever Roland Arndt tells people he still plays hockey he tends to get a similar reaction.
"They're just amazed," he said. "And they're just shocked I'm still playing."
For Arndt, a 51-year-old Ojibwe, that's got nothing to do with his age. Instead what most people marvel at is the fact he still laces up the blades for weekly matches though he is legally blind.
Arndt, who lives in Toronto, has Stargardt disease, an inherited juvenile macular degeneration disease that causes progressive vision loss.
He started losing his vision in his late teens and now has between only 8-10 percent vision in both eyes.
In many countries, including Canada, people are considered to be legally blind if they have 10 percent or less vision.
Arndt played a few seasons of hockey as a youth. And even though he was losing his vision he continued to play in adult leagues for a number of years before he was forced to give up the game about a decade ago as it was becoming too dangerous for him to play.
Then, seven years ago, Arndt heard about the Toronto Ice Owls, a hockey team of blind and visually impaired players. He tried out, was drafted and has been a member of that club since.
The Ice Owls, and other teams of blind players in Canada, utilize a special puck, which is about six inches in diameter and about an inch and a half thick.
Various versions of the puck exist. Some have been made from the tires off of barbecue stands while others are from children's Tonka truck toys. All the pucks though have pieces of metal hardware, such as nuts and bolts, inserted inside of them to make noise so players with limited vision can better hear where the puck is on the ice when it is moving.
Canadian blind hockey officials are hoping their sport will one day be included in the Paralympic Games. But in order for that to happen, the sport will have to start being played in more countries.
Besides Canada, it is believed that Sweden is the only other country where blind hockey is currently played.
Arndt is shocked the sport is not played anywhere in the United States.
"That really does surprise me," said Arndt, who works as a recreation and activity co-ordinator at a Toronto senior citizen's residence.
As for Canada, the sport has even held four national championship tournaments. The most recent one was held in Toronto this February 15-17, at the former Maple Leaf Gardens, which is now called the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
A total of 45 players from across the country took part in this event. In an effort to balance the participating clubs, tournament organizers split up players from various parts of the country and put them on different teams.
The four tournament entrants were named after Canadian franchises in the National Hockey League: Maple Leafs (Toronto), Canadiens (Montreal), Senators (Ottawa) and Canucks (Vancouver).
Arndt suited up for the Senators, who captured the bronze medal in the tournament. They defeated the Canadiens 5-0 in the third-place match.
For Arndt this marked the third consecutive year he had participated in the nationals. He was a member of the gold-medal winning side at the tournament staged in Montreal two years ago. And he won a silver medal at the 2012 championships in Quebec City.
"Now I have one of each," Arndt said of the three different colored medals.
As for the Ice Owls, they play a game per week, from October through March. Though they don't compete in a league their schedule consists of rotating contests against four different sighted squads.
"We make them follow our rules," Arndt said of the Ice Owls' opponents.
The rules include having teams make at least one pass in the offensive zone before being allowed to score a goal. This prevents players with a bit more sight from making end-to-end individual rushes.
Also, to help goalies follow the puck better, players are not allowed to score a goal in the top third of the net (in other words, no high shots allowed).
"I love it," Arndt said of his appearances with the Ice Owls. "I look forward to it every week."
The Ice Owls' players range in age from 19-73. And Arndt, a right winger, said he's considered somewhat of a sniper.
"I'm usually good for a goal per game," he said.
His limited vision though does also create some anticipated difficulties.
"I try to avoid losing the puck in my skates because then I have a hard time trying to find it," he said. "But if I can keep the puck in front of me and on my stick I'm usually okay."
Arndt is an avid fan of the sport and he watches NHL games as much as he can. But his favorite team is not his hometown Maple Leafs.
Instead, he prefers to cheer on the Boston Bruins.
As for his favorite player? Arndt said that individual is retired -- former Bruins' star forward Cam Neely, who is now president of the Boston franchise.
Arndt, however, has no plans to retire any time soon.
"I'm going to keep playing as long as I can," he said.