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Deaf Hockey Players

January 30, 2007

(from Yahoo! News) 

Deaf players success is sign of times

Casey Riffle(L) and Tray Wilson pose for a photograph in the Valencia Vipers training facility in Valencia, California on 23 January 2007. Riffle and Wilson are among three deaf players on the junior ice hockey team.(AFP/File/Hector Mata)

AFP/File Photo: Casey Riffle(L) and Tray Wilson pose for a photograph in the Valencia Vipers training facility…

by Greg Heakes Tue Jan 30, 9:40 AM ET

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – When Trey Wilson scores a goal he likes to go down on one knee and cup his hand to his ear while the crowd roars. 

Some might consider it an odd gesture, especially coming from Trey who is one of three deaf players on the Valencia Vipers junior ice hockey team.

But Trey’s father Seth doesn’t think so. He says that’s just the showman in his son coming out.

“He’s an entertainer,” Seth says. “He likes to get the crowd involved.”

The 19-year-old Wilson, Brian Van Vlyman and Casey Riffle are key players in the Western States Hockey League team. Jason Kitchin, who turned 25 earlier this month, is a former player and current assistant coach with Valencia.

“These kids have surprised their teammates with their skill,” Seth said. “They have been inspired and challenged because of what they have accomplished and overcome to compete at a high level.”

Van Vlyman, 20, and Kitchin will compete for the United States at the Deaflympics February 1-10 in Salt Lake City.

They are the lone Californians on the 23-man roster that is made up of players mainly from the US eastern states of Minnesota and Massachusetts. Wilson and Riffle made the team as alternates but will not travel to Salt Lake City unless someone gets injured.

The Unites States will be looking to reclaim the gold medal they won in 1995 in Finland.

Kitchin was a member of the American team that took the bronze four years ago in Sweden while Van Vlyman is getting his first taste of the premier international competition for deaf players.

“I played football, baseball and basketball when I was younger,” Van Vlyman said through a sign-language interpreter. “I chose hockey because my dad and older brothers played.”

Van Vlyman and Riffle play on the same line together with Wilson. Wilson switched from a high school in the Los Angeles suburb of Riverside to Valencia because the high school offered sign language as a foreign language.

The high school is also conveniently located across the street from the arena.

Because they can’t communicate as easily with their teammates, deaf players often feel left out and isolated.

“I grew up being the only deaf player on my team so it is nice to finally have teammates who you can communicate with and know what you are feeling on the ice,” Wilson said.

Casey said this has been one of his best seasons of hockey because he knows he has the support of not only of his teammates, but the coaching staff which includes Kitchin and head coach Larry Bruyere.

“It is a lot more fun being able to communicate with your friends and the coaching staff,” Casey said. “It has been a special year for me because I have been able to play a full season with the others.”

They all know each other from attending the annual Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired each summer in Chicago.

Kitchin was the first to attend the school, which is organized by former National Hockey League star Mikita. He has been going for 14 years.

The deaf game doesn’t differ much from hearing hockey. To compete internationally players much have a 55-decibel hearing loss.

At the Deaflympics flashing lights placed along the boards and behind the glass signal stoppages in plays.

It is a luxury the boys don’t get in hearing hockey, says Riffle.

“When I was about 11 years old I couldn’t hear the whistle so I checked a player from the other team over the boards and into his own players’ bench. I got a penalty,” said Riffle.

Kitchin said when it comes to sight and touch, deaf players have more pronounced senses on the ice.

“Sometimes I can the feel the vibration of a stick on the ice when someone is calling for a pass,” Kitchin said. “At the Stan Mikita school we are taught to see more of the ice and gauge when players are coming up behind us by looking at the reflection in the glass surrounding the rink.”

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  1. Sean
    December 30, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    This is great,,, I played hockey as a young kid,,, at the time when I played I was the only Deaf kid in the area/town and knew no sign language. Not Until I went to Gallaudet I learned of the the now defunct AAAD now known as Deafylimpics and I give my heart out to play again, Please support your local hockey leagues and support programs that help develop deaf/HOH children… its truely a sport.. I love to read stories of such nature…
    keep up the good work and god speed…
    C.

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