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Caruso Club
Friday, Jul. 28, 2017
Blind hockey through the eyes of champion Amanda Provan
2017-06-23
by Randy Pascal

Twenty-three year old Amanda Provan is a huge hockey fan. Through much of her youth, she recalls watching games with her father, a die-hard Leafs fan, likely far more often than many of her male counterparts of the time.

Unfortunately, she was also born with congenital nystagmus, a condition that leaves Provan with 20/200 vision. Not that this was about to stop her from pursuing a sport that she loves.

At the age of 13, she would suit up on her first team as a member of the Sudbury Playground Hockey League, moving on to play women’s hockey locally once she graduated from the ranks of the SPHL.

The highlight of her hockey career, however, would come in late May when Provan, along with fellow Sudburian Meghan Mahon and the remainder of the Toronto Ice Owls, edged the Hiboux de Montreal 5-3 in the gold medal matchup of the Canadian Blind Hockey East Regional tournament in Montreal.

The event, which also included the Vancouver Eclipse, featured only two female players: Provan and Mahon. While the sport itself contains a handful of key adaptations from a standard game of hockey, Provan embraces the sport as presented to her, making the most of the hand that she has been dealt.

“I don’t really have anything to compare it to, because I was born with this,” she explained. “I use the players to follow the play a lot, more than the puck, and I kind of use my knowledge of the game and what-not to guess where the play is going. I like to watch a lot of hockey.”

Goaltenders who are either completely blind or fully blindfolded man the nets that are three feet in height (versus the standard four foot high variety), allowing for the puck to be kept low and near the ice, such that it can make noise and be tracked aurally.

“It’s a metal puck with ball-bearings,” said Provan. “The puck is pretty loud. The closer you are to the goalie, the more chance there is for them to hear it. If you shoot from the blue line, the goalie won’t hear it until it’s too late. But the puck is heavy and hard to shoot, so to take a shot from the blue line is actually pretty challenging.”

And lest one believe that the netminders have little to no fair chance of making the big save, there are some equalization rules in play. “You can’t do slap shots and you have to make a pass, before shooting. Once a pass is made, there’s a whistle, more of an alarm, really, and they set it off once the pass is made and then you can shoot.”

Back in March, Provan was exposed to blind hockey for the very first time, attending an introductory event in Toronto and subsequently placed on a team at the Canadian National Blind Hockey Tournament.

Little surprise then when she was invited back to attend the competition in Montreal last month, by now somewhat more immersed in the environment and atmosphere that envelops all those who participate in the sport.

“One of the guys referred to the experience as a very big family that you didn’t know that you had,” said Provan. “They are so welcoming, such amazing people. It was incredible, a great experience.”

A forward through most of her life as a hockey player, Provan would man the blueline for the Owls, one of five non-regulars on the Toronto team who were added to the roster for tournament play. Though a non-contact rule only stands to reason in a game that is open to co-ed participation, the local product contends that a little physicality would be welcome, if not for a somewhat annoying by-product.

“I try not to get penalties in the women’s league, because I can’t see the clock,” Provan explained with a laugh. “I would probably take more penalties, but I’m not sure when to get out of the box.”

Though she has attended CNIB camps in the area in summers gone by, Provan noted that the blind hockey venture was her first foray into the realm of adaptive sport, as this group looks to work its way towards Paralympic inclusion.

In the meantime, she may very well give goal ball a shot, the sport that provided the entry for Meghan Mahon into the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It might not have quite the appeal of hockey, for Provan, but it would allow entry to one more door for a young woman who seems intent on not allowing a whole lot of doors to remain locked, in spite of her disability.

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