After taking part in the USA Hockey Blind Classic last year, Brady Hadfield wasn’t going to miss this year’s event.
The 15-year-old traveled roughly eight hours from Minnesota to Chicago’s Fifth Third Arena for the three-day tournament that took place Nov. 17-19.
“I really liked seeing people that I knew playing the games,” Hadfield said. “I just liked all that they had to offer. I like the memories of getting together and seeing friends and families that we’ve met at tournaments like this.”
The 44 players that competed in this year’s third annual Blind Hockey Classic came together as a community to help grow the newest of the six disabled hockey disciplines. Blind hockey was introduced to the disabled hockey community at the 2015 USA Hockey Disabled Festival.
During this year’s three-day Blind Hockey Classic, Hadfield was able to build on what he learned at last year’s session and improve as a player.
“You basically kind of pick up more of those skills that you learned last year,” said Hadfield, who skated in the beginner’s division. “It’s kind of like getting to that next level where you might need to know a little bit. You just need to work a little bit harder than you did last year.”
Fellow 15-year-old Katelyn Kaechele has competed at all three classics in the intermediate division. Living in the Chicago suburb Batavia, it was an easy decision for Kaechele to attend this year’s event since it was almost in her backyard.
Convenience was key for Kaechele this time, but there are multiple reasons for why she attends the event every year.
“The experience and meeting new people,” she said.
Kaechele — who was a rollerblader before picking up a stick and trying hockey — was able to enhance her skills during practices and four games the teams played.
“It helps me pick up on a little bit of teamwork and some skills, like understanding how to do it,” Kaechele said. “We had advanced [players], so then there’s people that help me with different things.”
Kaechele attends other blind hockey events around the country throughout the year, but she gets the most out of the Blind Hockey Classic.
“It’s kind of because of the players and the coaches at the same time,” Kaechele said.
When Dan Schramm was first starting to walk, his dad slapped a pair of skates on his feet. That started Schramm’s passion for the game.
But it wasn’t until Schramm was in his late 20s before he latched onto the blind hockey discipline.
“I was introduced to the blind hockey community about three and a half, four years ago, just before COVID,” said Schramm, who is 31 years old. “It has been a life-changing experience for the good. Not so much what I get out of it directly, it’s what I can provide to our younger and youthful generations.”
Schramm was on hand for the Blind Hockey Classic to compete in the advanced division, but also to do some on-ice teaching.
“As much time as we’re spending outside the rink, we’re here to have some fun,” Schramm said. “But any opportunity to pass on some knowledge is being taken advantage of.”
Schramm, who lives in Edwards, Colorado, travels to about a half dozen blind hockey events per year. The Blind Hockey Classic remains one of his favorites to attend.
“It’s definitely far up there,” he said. “I have a unique relationship with the Chicago area as far as how many events we’ve had here in the past and how much fun we’ve had. Gone through some adversity here. Last year, I broke my leg at an event here and had a bounce-back year, so it’s really special to be back.”
Schramm has enjoyed watching the growth of the blind hockey discipline in the last few years, and he loves being able to help make a difference in the sport.
“We would always like to be a little bit bigger and dream bigger, but we’re trending in the right direction,” Schramm said. “We have such a phenomenal support group around us as far as people outside of our community that are trying to promote us. It’s a lot of fun. We’re going in the right direction.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.