Seventeen women were chosen to represent the US in the first ever World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships, held in Amherst, New York last month. Lead by head coach Jackie MacMillan, the team went head to head against Canada on April 22 and 23.
“I am extremely honored to be part of the first US Women’s National Deaf Ice Hockey Team. The American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association (AHIHA) and the late Coach Jeff Sauer have been instrumental in providing a great opportunity for these talented athletes and it continues to show the positive impact ice hockey has on everybody involved in the sport,” said MacMillan.
To qualify for the event, the athletes had to have a hearing loss of at least 55dB, which puts them in a category of moderately severe hearing loss. Hearing aids, cochlear implants, and the likes were not allowed to be used during the competition to ensure fairness. However, most of the girls said that they choose not to use these devices any time they compete.
The girls on the team ranged from 13-29 years old, and only had one day to practice for the competition after the tryouts held in March. There were a lot of obstacles to overcome, but the girls adapted and played like professionals.
“They are a lot more observant and aware than players who have full hearing,” MacMillan said. “They pick up things more quickly.”
The rink that the teams played on had specially-designed lights for hearing impaired athletes. These lights were installed around the perimeter of the rink to notify the players of the whistle being blown for a penalty or a coach calling a timeout. Other than that, there was no difference between these games and any other.
All of the women were extremely excited to be able to compete in the first ever deaf ice hockey championships with other athletes like them.
“You can show you are deaf instead of hiding it,” said Madison Gagliano, a 13-year-old center from Illinois who has been playing hockey since she was four. Maddie was one of the youngest members of the women’s team, but scored two goals during the games. “I want to play in college and for the NWHL.”
The championships were aimed at building international interest in the women’s game. The US played Canada because they were the only other nation with a comparable team. Hopefully, other countries who have been inspired by these games plan to recruit athletes to join in.
Funding for the games was provided by the AHIHA through private donations, as well as the USA Hockey Foundation. The AHIHA, founded in 1973, is a nonprofit that serves deaf and hard of hearing athletes.
Unfortunately, the US lost both games, but the fact that there were games to begin with is more important. The women left New York with an experience they will never forget, and bonds with the other athletes that can never be broken.
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