The sounds of pucks ringing off posts, skates on ice and bodies hitting boards. To a hockey fan, they are crucial elements of the game. To Iain Love, they are frankly overrated.
Love, an 18-year-old Nelson hockey player, has been deaf for most of his life. But on the ice he manages just fine.
“It’s different when I play with hearing people. It’s like two separate worlds,” says Love. “But for me, when I play with the guys who are hearing impaired, it’s no problem at all. Those guys can see what’s going on.”
Love plays forward locally with a minor league team, and also on the Lower Mainland with the B.C. Rockies, a team of players with hearing disabilities.
This week, Love is on his way to compete with the Rockies at the 2018 Canada Deaf Games. The Selkirk College student will be one of 33 B.C. athletes in Winnipeg, which is also hosting men’s and women’s curling, mixed volleyball, men’s basketball and mixed bowling.
But when he first started playing 12 years ago, all Love wanted to do was find a community of his own.
He picked hockey because it wasn’t overly complicated for someone with a hearing disability to play.
“In the deaf world, it’s quite different because most players who are deaf have to use sign language to communicate,” says Love.
“When they score a goal or when the referee [makes a call], they have some strobe lights at the end of the rink where they flash. That gets the player’s attentions.”
It was only three years ago however that Love started playing with the Rockies. Prior to that, he sometimes struggled to play and practice with local teams.
Understanding a coach’s instructions or on-ice chats with other players were a challenge, but Love’s mother Heather says her son’s teammates quickly figured out how to play with him.
“If they need to say something fast, they come and they talk right into his cage,” she says. “They know.”
One of Love’s coaches reached out on his behalf to the B.C. Deaf Sports Federation, which in turn contacted his family about the Rockies.
Rockies head coach Shawn Mayzes says he was surprised by how hard Love plays. At a recent 3-on-3 tournament Mayzes had to remind Love the games were just being played for fun.
“I like his compete level,” says Mayzes. “He’s still young, still learning the little details of the game. When you’re younger most players just skate hard and shoot hard but there’s more to it, like positioning and supporting your teammates.”
Love flies down to practise and play with the team, which features players ages 16 to 55 and includes men and women. Hearing aids, or in Love’s case cochlear implants, aren’t allowed during games. Strobe lights meanwhile are used by referees in lieu of whistles.
Sign language is hard to do with gloves and not every player is capable of signing well, so coaches teach players to make eye contact with each other. The team also has interpreters who volunteer at practices.
“We try to foster a really supportive environment for new players to come in and feel comfortable,” says Mayzes. “We have some new players who have played at the junior level and higher levels, and we rely on them to help teach the kids or even some adults who are playing their first game.”
In Winnipeg, the games will be 3-on-3 on a full-size rink with no contact. Love will also get the chance to face Jim Kyte, the only deaf player to have ever compete in the NHL, who is competing at the Games with his family.
If Love does well, there’s a chance he’ll be selected to play for Team Canada at the next Winter Deaflympics, which are tentatively set to be hosted in Kazakhstan.
“To be honest it’s going to be quite challenging,” said Love. “I know the last few years [the Rockies] brought home the bronze. My expectation is to help the team get better, do lots of passing and scoring.
“I’m hoping to try to help them win.”