Nova Scotia

Hockey family with hearing impairment heading to Canadian Deaf Games

Team Kyte includes four Nova Scotia university students and retired enforcer Jim Kyte, the only deaf person to play in the NHL.

Team Kyte includes retired NHL player and 4 Nova Scotia university students

Members of the Kyte family will be competing at the Canadian Deaf Games next month in Winnipeg. (CBC)

It's what the Kyte family leaves behind in the locker room that sets them apart — their hearing aids.

Members of the Ottawa family, four of whom attend university in Nova Scotia, will be competing at the Canadian Deaf Games next month in Winnipeg, one of five teams in the ice hockey event. 

The family of hockey players, all hearing impaired, will play together under their family name — Team Kyte.  

"We like just being able to do it as a family," said Emma Kyte, a second-year student at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. "It's always fun, it's not something a lot of families say that they can do. Experience it all together so we can look back on those memories."

Their roster for three-on-three hockey will feature the only deaf person to play in the NHL, retired enforcer Jim Kyte. He will be competing with brothers John, Rob, Frayne and Jimmy.

Representing the next generation, identical twins Emma and Abi will take the ice with their brother Thomas and their cousin Sean.

"We were really excited, especially with all the hard-of-hearing family members we have," said Sean Kyte. "We got on email and text and made sure everyone could make it out in Winnipeg." 

"It is really a wonderful opportunity for the family to get together, all the nieces and nephews to get together to play with their uncles and their dad," said Murray Kyte, who is unable to play due to an injury and works as St. FX's vice-president of advancement. 

This week, they were practising on the ice at St. Francis Xavier University, the twins wearing jerseys from their rival residences.

The family has a long history on the campus. The students' grandfather, John "Tink" Kyte, was a boxer, football player and hockey player who graduated from the university in 1947. He was named the school's "athlete of the half-century" and is a member of the St. FX Sports Hall of Fame.

John 'Tink' Kyte played several sports at St. Francis Xavier University and his photo is on display in the school's sports hall of fame. (Kyte family)

He originally thought his deafness came from whooping cough, but it was actually a genetic auditory nerve degeneration, something some of his descendants also have.

They don't sign, they lip read and use their hearing aids.

But to prepare for the competition, the players have stopped wearing their hearing aids, which they're not allowed to use in the tournament in order to level the playing field for players who are completely deaf.

"Uncle Jim always told us when he was a defenceman, he would look at the glass to see who was behind him. Using little techniques like that, really using your eyes, because you can't use your ears," said Sean. 

Former Winnipeg Jet Jim Kyte (6) checks Edmonton Oiler Jari Kurri (17) at Investors Group Field in the first period of the NHL Heritage Classic Alumni game in Winnipeg on Oct 22, 2016. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

"When we're on the ice, I wouldn't be able to hear my teammates calling for a puck so we have an interpreter as well, who does sign language for the completely deaf players on the team. A lot of yelling and trying to get that puck into the net," Sean added.  

"A lot of the head on the swivel, keeping your head up. Instead of hitting your stick on the ice you're waving it trying to get the visual," Thomas Kyte said. 

Emma Kyte said in the upcoming games, red strobe lights will flash, as opposed to a whistle blowing, to let players know when play has stopped. 

"Everyone is kind of going through it together, so it's pretty easy to play and it's kind of fun to do something different."

With files from Colleen Jones