'The only thing I haven't really done is drive the Zamboni'
Justin Disher announces, manages 2 teams and sometimes coaches
Hockey was never Justin Disher's thing.
He tried it. He played tyke and novice when he was little, but since he wasn't quite a superstar, nor anywhere close, he dropped out of the game.
But not the arena.
Disher, 32, grew up in Welland, Ont., watching his older brothers play. Today, he manages the city's major midget AAA and minor atom A teams. He also helps out coaching the bantam A squad.
In addition, Disher is a fixture in the arena broadcasting booth — announcing most of the games for the house league, A and AAA teams, along with playing music.
If that's not enough to keep him busy, he volunteers announcing local high school games too.
"The only thing I haven't really done yet is drive the Zamboni," he said.
As an Our Game Star, he'll be featured on Hockey Night in Canada on March 28. He could also win tickets to the Stanley Cup Final.
What he loves most about minor hockey is that it brings people together.
"You can go into any rink in any city and see whole families sitting together watching the game and cheering on their kin," he said.
Given his involvement with hockey, it might seem strange that he doesn't play in some capacity. But a visual disability has made it difficult for him to get into the sport.
In 2005, he has laser eye surgery to try to improve his vision, but the results weren't as doctors had hoped. In fact, his sight was so poor after the procedure, he had to leave his job.
"My biggest problem is [seeing] halos, and a lot of things get blurry, especially when I'm tired," he said.
It was after his surgery, when he was feeling restless at home, that he got up off the couch and walked to the local arena.
"I thought about trying public skating, but having not played for so many years, it didn't exactly go well," he said.
Instead of turning away from the sport, Disher walked to another arena where a minor hockey game was going on.
"I didn't know any of the kids at the time, but it was a very good game. It went into OT, and I was hooked. I was so impressed with the level of play," he said, adding that he has continued to follow some of those same players over the years.
From there, he began volunteering any way he could.
As manager of the two Welland teams, Disher books hotels for tournaments, organizes exhibition games, registers players and ensures parents are informed of game and practice details.
"I have a team website set up for them. I'll write up some of the games, I put all of their stats on there, and they love that," he said. "The players are always checking to see how many goals and assists they've got."
Teams like his music choices too.
"I've gotten to know a lot of the kids, I know what songs they like," Disher said, adding he'll often play the Dropkick Murphys, AC/DC and Metallica.
"Their faces light up when I play the music, and you know, the kids have emailed me and said, 'Can you take pictures of my team?' When kids say they really appreciate you covering their games and being there … it makes you feel great," he said.
Most of all, Disher said he appreciates the chance to be involved.
"I wasn't sure there was much I could offer, due to my own limited hockey ability and visual disability," he said. "But with a lot of help and encouragement from players and parents, I've learned there is a place for everyone to play a role in the minor hockey community."