This is the seventh installment of our ‘Hockey Strong’ series which will be continued for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. February’s feature is Luke Miller, member of the US Blind Hockey Team and Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey. He discusses the US Blind Team’s motto “We are One” and what it means to him and his teammates.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Blind Hockey Team players have been working to maintain their physical fitness so that, when the call comes, we can pick up right where we left off and hit the ice once again. It is easy to feel cut off from our teammates during this time, but we need to remember what we are part of and let that continuously drive us forward. Head Coach Michael Svac delivered the line, “We are One,” in a team Zoom meeting last month. The simple phrase has since become a sort of team motto that players refer to whenever a boost of moral is required. While effective, it is important for us to remember what this means to us individually as well as for the whole team.
Individually, players know what is required of them on a day to day basis. Keeping up their core strength, maintaining cardiovascular stamina, ensuring that their nutrition is upheld are only a few key components of being an elite level blind hockey player. I have embraced these challenges the best I can in my current situation. I recently returned to online classes from the University of Illinois where I study Actuarial Science. In between meetings and homework, I do home-based full body workouts, practice puck handling on synthetic ice using a balance board and run interval sprints on the treadmill. In a recent Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey practice, a coach mentioned that some time away from the ice can help to unlearn bad habits that we have while playing. Now that I am skating again, I have been working on my stick handling and edge work to optimize my puck protection which is very important in Blind Hockey. Having players across the country requires there to not be a cookie cutter process to player development, so all the players have their own methods for staying on top of their game.
The US Blind Hockey Team has had its growing pains through this pandemic with regard to maintaining an open mode of communication between players. Originally, specific exercise assessments took place once a month. Now weekly meetings have become the practice for all players who can openly communicate with each other and our members from Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI). In these meetings, we discuss stress management, workout schedules, and even our individual lives as people with visual impairments where our commonalities and differences prove to give us a stronger bond. The meetings will broaden into more topics and currently are a mode of team accountability which is especially important for players who play as a team a limited number of times a year. It has all been an effort to expand team dynamics.
February 7th was the first time when players were required to report their weekly workout totals; these totals include time doing strength training, core workout, flexibility, mobility, balance, off-ice training, and on-ice training (which is more difficult while rinks are closed nationwide). All of these combine to create a full workout regimen that the team is moving toward in the future. This is what “We are One” means to us. It means bettering ourselves with our teammates, our program, and even the sport of blind hockey in mind. It means maintaining an open dialogue like checking in with Assistant Captain Kevin Brown on how the physical therapy for his knee is progressing and spreading the stories and experiences of Blind Hockey, like Team USA player Anthony Chesrow does with other Blind Hockey players on the podcast, The Dented Puck. We are a family, and if anything can come out of this pandemic for the US Blind Hockey Team, it’s that being ‘one’ will have made the US Blind Hockey Team a stronger group than it would have been otherwise.