“I never thought I would be able to play hockey,” said Adam Young, 32, a Kent resident and defensive player for Seattle Blind Hockey. “I was glued to TV as a kid watching hockey and told my teachers I was going to be a hockey player.”
Young is visually impaired, with tunnel vision and nearsightedness in his right eye and no sight in his left eye. Growing up in Michigan, Young has always been a hockey fan. But it wasn’t until recently that he realized he could actually play the sport himself.
In 2018, the United States Blind Hockey Team was formed, along with the Seattle Blind Hockey Association, and it didn’t take Young too long to join the team.
The sport of blind hockey is for visually impaired players with limited or no vision. Although most of the rules are the same as ice hockey, the biggest difference is that blind hockey uses a custom puck that is larger and makes noise when it moves.
“It’s made of 22-gauge steel and features steel ball bearings, so the puck sounds like a cowbell,” Young said.
According to USA Hockey rules, typical pucks are one inch thick and three inches in diameter. In blind hockey, the metal puck is 1.875 inches thick and 5.5 inches in diameter. The larger size allows visually impaired players to see the puck, while the sound of the puck allows visually impaired or blind players to follow it.
“I learned to play by watching the games, but I couldn’t see the puck. I learned to read the position of the players and where they would sit,” Young said. “One of the fun things is seeing it differently, and now it’s fun to do all the things that I grew up watching.”
Young learned to skate as a child in the Midwest and was a natural on the ice. After moving to Washington seven years ago, Young continued to skate as much as he could at the Kent Valley Ice Center, where he still trains a few times a week.
“I like the reaction people have with the blind puck because they would come to me thinking it’s a practice tool, not realizing that I can’t see,” Young said.
Young’s talents on the ice have earned him some recognition. For the second year in a row, he was invited to join the National Blind Hockey Training Camp in Utica, New York. Mark DeFlorio, national blind hockey team player and co-founder of the Seattle Blind Hockey Association, has nothing but praise for Young.
“Despite my vision loss, I have over 30 years of sighted hockey [and] structured hockey experience. The most amazing thing to me is that Adam has none – his talent is natural and his skill set is self-taught,” DeFlorio said in an email. “His attitude and commitment are exactly the characteristics the national team needs.”
When he’s not playing hockey, Young spends time with his dogs, Walt and Sid, and works at a veterinary clinic in Des Moines as a kennel assistant.
“They say I’m like a dog whisperer,” Young said with a laugh.
Last year’s training camp was postponed due to the pandemic, but Young is optimistic about his ability to make it to this year’s camp, which will take place in mid-August.
However, blind hockey has high costs. The large steel pucks take a lot of beatings and need to be replaced after every game, costing around $200 per puck. Young not only has to pay for every puck he uses for practice, but he also has to pay for his own travel expenses when invited to tournaments and camps.
“Last year’s GoFundMe raised $4,000 and that’s the only reason I can go to events, so I’m doing the same this year,” Young said.
Either way, Young will continue to play the sport he loves, wherever he can.
“The way I manage life comes from hockey. It taught me patience, it taught me to be a team player, to be competitive,” Young said. “It taught me to respect an opponent, to hate them and to forgive them once the match is over.”