Whistles and shouts echo around the cavernous Agincourt Recreation Centre. Florescent lights glare off the ice surface. It even smells like a hockey arena – coffee and hockey equipment. But the game played is different. Eddie Parenteau manages the team on the ice.
“You’re not allowed to put (the puck) in the top of the net because you can’t catch what you don’t see,” he said. “The referees will also allow about 18 inches on the offside. Other than that it’s just ordinary hockey.”
Parenteau manages the Ice Owls, a recreational hockey team made up of blind and visually impaired players.
Another distinctive alteration to the Ice Owls’ brand of hockey is the puck. Instead of the standard round piece of rubber, the Owls use a thick plastic wheel filled with piano pins. The pins rattle as the disk glides across the ice, allowing players to track its movement with their ears.
Skating together since 1972, the Owls play every Sunday Morning from Thanksgiving through March. On Dec. 2, they faced off against a sighted group, affectionately called “the family team,” led by Paul McCue.
“What you see is family and friends,” McCue said. “My son, my great nephew and great niece, a friend in goal. My other son and some of the cousins couldn’t make it today, but we just have a great time.”
The McCues began playing the Owls in 2003. Patrick McCue said the style of play was an adjustment.
“You’ve got to learn how to play with the other puck,” he said. “It doesn’t pass the same and it raises a lot easier than you might think.”
A combination of injuries and vacations left the Owls a bit shorthanded on Sunday, but it didn’t bother the group.
“They (the original coaches) used to make us put our sticks behind out heads, lie on the ice and do sit-ups,” Parenteau said. “When I took over the team in 1990, a few of the guys said, ‘Look, if you’re going to make us do that stuff, we’re going to kill you.’ So we just scrimmage now.”
Forty years on, they’re just out for the joy of the game.