'Such an incredible rush': Blind hockey puts Edmonton man back between the pipes
'The biggest question people have about blind hockey is, 'How on Earth do people do it?'
Lorne Webber listens intently for the rattle and clang of the puck before he dives in the net.
He is a goalie with the Edmonton SeeHawks, the city's only hockey team made up exclusively of players with vision impairments.
Unlike most of his teammates who have some sight, Webber is completely blind.
"The biggest question people have about blind hockey is, 'How on Earth do people do it?'" Webber said Friday in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
The answer? Hearing is everything, Webber said.
"It makes a lot of noise, anywhere on the ice," Webber said. "It's extremely loud so we can all hear where it is."
The game has a few other modifications, as well. The puck is slightly larger, and the nets — taking into account that the puck is silent when airborne — are a little lower than regulation size.
"Most of the skaters ... can see a little bit. They may have five or 10 per cent vision or different angles of vision," said Webber.
"It's mostly just the goalies like myself and some of the defencemen who are totally blind."
Webber, 35, discovered blind hockey in 2013.
Something I very much missed from my days with sight.- Lorne Webber
He began slowly losing his sight at age 10 to retinal detachments and by the age of 16, he was completely blind.
He grew up playing hockey, but once his vision went dark, he assumed he would never play again.
"Like most Canadian kids, I grew up playing shinny hockey at the local community rink. We even tried flooding my parents backyard to make a rink and all that did was kill the grass," he recalled.
Getting back to the game for the first time in decades was a rush.
It was frustrating to begin with, but when Webber strapped on the goalie pads for the first time, he was hooked.
"It took me a couple of times to get the hang of it, but then I discovered this goalie thing and I've been loving it ever since," said Webber.
"It is honestly such an incredible rush."
Webber, who is also an accomplished rower and goalball player (goalball is a team game designed specifically for blind people), said blind hockey has brought him more happiness than any other sport.
He first went to his first National blind hockey tournament in 2015, and has returned each year since.
Blind hockey has been around since the early 1970s but has enjoyed a resurgence in the past five years, thanks to renewed investment from organizations like Courage Canada, a national organization dedicated to the growth of the sport.
There are established teams in major cities throughout North America.
This weekend, the SeeHawks are hosting the Canadian Blind Hockey Western Regional Tournament in Leduc, hosting players from across Canada and the United States.
The tournament kicks off Friday at the Leduc Recreation Centre. There is no charge for spectators.
With files from Julia Lipscombe