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Hockey and the Deaf:

Jeff Ruhland



Hockey and the Deaf


Hockey is a very vocal sport. It is quick paced and yelling between teammates is very common. There are plays that need to be set up in the offensive or defensive zones, and unlike basketball where the hands are open so plays can be called using fingers, the hands are covered by protective gloves so the fingers are not easily seen. The plays are yelled between the players so they know where to go and what to do. It is also easier to locate a teammate during such fast play if the player with the puck can hear the other yelling, or also letting him know if an opposing player is chasing them and cannot be seen since humans don't have eyes in the backs of our heads. Also, the referees stop plays using whistles which can only be heard. No lighting or anything represents a stoppage of play.


I first thought that being deaf would make playing competitive hockey impossible because of the major need of hearing. After doing research, I realized there has been one legally deaf player who played in the National Hockey League. Jim Kyte was the first and only legally deaf NHL hockey player. He was a defensemen drafted in 1982, and played until 1997. He was forced to retire from a car accident that gave him post concussion syndrome for many years following the accident. According to, Jim Kyte wore hearing aids during games. In the article it states, "To protect his hearing aids, Kyte wore a helmet that had special flaps covering the center of his ears"(Dan David, 2001). He wasn't the greatest player on the ice, he only had 66 points in 598 total games. He was known for his physical play and also is off ice contributions to the deaf community and other charities.


 There has been one other player that is partially deaf that plays currently. His name is Steve Downie. "He is deaf in his right ear due to the hearing disorder otosclerosis and wears a hearing aid" (Wikipedia, 2008). No NHL players are completely deaf and don't wear a hearing aid if they are hard of hearing. The hearing aid is used mostly just to hear high sounds such as the whistles.

There are leagues that are dedicated to deaf hockey players, such as the DEAFinitely Hockey Program in Worcester, MA. The program is linked with the college Holy Cross. Holy Cross has a very large ASL program with many major events such as the annual DEAFinitely Hockey Program. According to Judy Freedman Fask in the DEAFinitely hockey program guide, the players were, "Joined by more than 20 students from the Holy Cross ASL program throughout the season"(Fask, 2005). There are many other small organizations that have youth hockey programs for the deaf community also.


On a larger scale, there is a hockey program that competes in the winter Deaflympics. Countries that participated in the recent winter Deaflympics hockey tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah in early February were Russia, Canada, USA, Finland, Germany, and Sweden. USA won the gold medal. Many players on the team came from a great hockey program called the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association.


NHL Hall of Famer Stan Mikita and business partner Irv Tiahnybik started the Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired in 1973 and that school started a long needed hockey program that has grown so fast because of its popularity. Hundreds of students attend the hockey school each year to learn to play hockey, or better tune their hockey skills and possibly play for US National DEAFlympics team. The program was started because Irv Tiahnybik wanted a hockey program started for his son who was deaf. Tiahnybik could not find coaches that would teach his son how to play.

I have been playing hockey for 20 years and I had no idea that these organizations existed for deaf players. I actually didn't know any competitive hockey players were deaf. In my mind, I thought it would be too hard for a hockey player to play being deaf. It is fantastic that players are able to use hearing aids to assist them in hearing the whistles or anything else they would need to hear while playing the game. I wanted to know if they use other means of communication between players, coaches, and referees, but I wasn't able to get a hold of anyone to explain the specifics of the rules, if they are different, between regular and hearing impaired leagues.


"Jim Kyte." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 15 Jan 2008, 05:31 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 27 Mar 2008 <>

David, Dan. (2001, June). 1982 Draft Pick Jim Kyte. Hockey Alliance. March 23, 2008. <>

"Steve Downie." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 25 Mar 2008, 13:05 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 27 Mar 2008 <>

Fask, Judy Freedman. (2005). DEAFinitely Hockey for the Deaf. Massachusetts Hockey. March 23, 2008. <>

Fernandez, Ralph. (2008). Sports. Deaflympics. International Committee of Sports for the Deaf. March 23, 2008. <>

Staff (2008). Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired. American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association. March 23, 2008. <>



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