Goaltender learns to deal with hearing disadvantage

“I am a very visual peron. I rely more on my eyes than my hearing,” said Kristy Edwards, a goaltender for Harrington Hall, who is deaf. (Tom Bateman/AQ)

Kristy Edwards has to focus. Making sure the puck is covered, she looks to her defensemen to make sure they aren’t yelling at her, and then looks at the referees to make sure the play has been blown dead. There are many things to focus on as a goaltender, but for Edwards being deaf means she has to pay special attention to detail.

“I am a very visual person. I rely more on my eyes than my hearing.”

In a game of speed and sound, Edwards, a first-year student at the University of New Brunswick, has always had to use sharp concentration towards the speedy game around her.

You may have to speak up when talking to Edwards, but the pint-sized blonde doesn’t mind sharing her thoughts and experiences playing hockey, the game she loves.

***

Living with a family that loved hockey, Edwards grew up rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs. She always wanted to play goaltender, listing former star goaltenders, such as Patrick Roy, Gerry Cheevers and Jacques Plante as some of her favorite players to put on pads in the National Hockey League.

Because of her disability, medically defined as profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, her hockey-loving family was apprehensive about putting Edwards into organized hockey. In a fast-paced game full of plenty of contact, Edwards’ family was afraid the contact would be too much for Edwards to handle.

“The first person that told me I couldn’t play was my parents, but you have to understand that they were just looking out for me.”

At 13, Edwards got her Cochlear implant, a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound behind her ear. The device allows Edwards to hear out of her right ear. After the implant, her parents decided to let the hockey-starved Edwards play the game.

“I did a lot of sports at first, I’ve done swimming, I’ve done basketball, I’ve done volleyball. None of them worked out for me, and then finally I get to try out hockey, which my heart was set on for so long.”

When she received the opportunity from her parents to play hockey, she didn’t play goalie right away. She played her first season as a forward, learning the basics of the game. After one year of learning how to play, she quickly made the change of position to goaltender.

She says the change of positions was a struggle at first and wasn’t easy to adjust to.

“When I look back at starting to learn to play goaltender I laugh at it, because I often fell and didn’t know what was going on, didn’t realize that my skates were different”

The Nova Scotia native says playing goaltender and following in her idols’ footsteps makes it the perfect position for her.

“I never felt overly disadvantaged. Goaltender is an independent position.”

***

Once she got to university, Edwards wanted to continue to play hockey. She signed up to be the starting-goaltender for the Harrington Hall Raiders hockey team and says the experience is something she has never felt before.

“It is not what I expected, but in a good way. It’s a majority men’s league, and I am shy with guys.”

Edwards knows however, that being a deaf goalie has its challenges.

“The disadvantage of being a deaf goalie, often it’s hard to hear the whistle blowing, especially when my helmet is so close to my Cochlear Plant, it just muffles. I often have to keep an eye on everything, not just the puck alone. I have to watch the referees, the players, everything.”

Goaltenders are often known for having an open communication with their fellow players. Since she is so focused on so many different things on the ice, Edwards says she struggles with communication.

“Defensemen come up and ask me questions. It is hard to hear them when they are shouting at me when we play, because I can’t listen and focus on the same time.”

Hockey players usually thrive on the motivation from the crowds, but Edwards says since she doesn’t always hear the crowds like other players, it makes her able to focus more.

“Even when there is a crowd, I am still able to focus, it is sort of a disadvantage but I still deal with it. I know the crowd just wants to cheer us on and motivate the team. I just deal with it in my own way.”

Because of her disability, Edwards knew that many sports didn’t necessary work for her, but the independence of a goaltender is a big reason why she says hockey works for her.

“I am not saying hockey is a superior sport, I am not saying hockey is better than others, but I am saying that hockey was the sport for me.

“This is what I love to do, it makes me happy.”

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