CAHA deaf and blind hockey clinics hit on all cylinders
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It was a day Kole Mudra and a young man will never forget.
Mudra is a 6-foot, 225-pound center for the 20U Pikes Peak Miners of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League (RMJHL). The young man is a student in his early teens at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs.
Their paths crossed Sept. 7 at a free hockey clinic for the blind put on by the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association (CSAHA) and USA Hockey at Sertich Ice Center in Colorado Springs.
Several Miners players and coach Nick Harper were among the volunteers. Mudra was paired with a student who had never skated and could barely speak English. His native language is Mandarin Chinese.
“We didn’t have much of a conversation when he was getting his gear, but you could tell how excited he was to be there,” Mudra said.
The language barrier soon was taken down by a school staff member who used the Google Translate device on her phone.
A 10-minute session on the ice for Mudra and the student had its ups and downs.
“The kid held onto me for dear life, with all his might,” Mudra said. “I got a good workout.”
After falling a few times, including once hard on his rear end, the student decided that was enough ice time.
For about 20 minutes after they left the ice, Mudra and student talked and the student worked on stick-handling with a beeper ball.
“I was worried that I didn’t do a good job, but I found out later the kid didn’t take off his (clinic) T-shirt for five days,” Mudra said. “I really enjoyed working at the clinic. I’m so glad I was able to help that kid experience hockey.”
There were 18 participants in the clinic. A free hockey clinic for the deaf and hard of hearing was held Sept. 19, also at the Sertich Ice Center. That clinic had 52 participants.
Each clinic was for participants age eight through adult. Most of the participants in each clinic were from the School for the Deaf and Blind.
“We’re beyond thrilled with the turnouts,” said Doris Donley, CAHA vice president of adaptive hockey. “We had no clue what to expect.”
Word of mouth played a huge role in the deaf clinic turnout.
Only three participants had signed up for the deaf clinic before the blind clinic was held. After the blind clinic, the number for the deaf clinic jumped to 52 in about 24 hours.
Besides the Miners, CAHA and USA Hockey, volunteers came from Tigers sled hockey and 18U AAA teams and the Pikes Peak Wolves women’s team. There also were American Sign Language interpreters.
Washington (D.C.) Wheelers blind hockey team captain Craig Fitzpatrick and goalie Doug Goist flew in solely for the blind clinic as did Jeff Sauer, coach of the U.S. national sled hockey team, former University of Wisconsin coach and a 2014 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, for the deaf clinic.
Donley said several heart-warming stories emerged from the clinics. For example, Donley said a few participants in the blind clinic who didn’t get on the ice heard the Zamboni before the session and wondered what it was.
“The Zamboni driver gave them an in-depth description of the purpose of a Zamboni and what it looks like,” Donley said.
A participant in the deaf clinic got autographs from Tigers’ 18U AAA players on his T-shirt after taking a tour of the team’s locker room at Sertich Ice Center.
Then there was this story from the blind clinic – former Colorado College player Brandon Straub and his brother, Brian, played with their father, who is blind, for the first time in 30 years.
These won’t be the last blind and deaf hockey clinics in Colorado Springs.
“Will we do it again?” Donley asked. “Absolutely.”
— Steve Stein