They use sign language as their primary mode of communication but members of Canada's hockey team will let their sticks do the talking during the first World Deaf Ice Hockey and Curling Championships starting Friday in Winnipeg.
"We're making history, this is the first ever world deaf championship and for these guys, it's very big for them to be involved in it, especially the Western Canada guys and the guys from Winnipeg," said Team Canada hockey team head coach Jim Vitale. "They want to win one on home soil, not only for Canada but for their Manitoba roots. From our team standpoint, we ended up getting a silver in the last (Deaf) Olympics so after winning three golds in a row before that, we really want to redeem that supremacy."
Four players Team Canada players are Manitobans, including Tyler Plett, Scott Nelson and Brett McLaren of Winnipeg and Dawson Friesen of Steinbach.
"To represent Canada, home of the best hockey in the world, it is very special to do that here in our hometown," Plett, the team's 26-year-old goaltender said in an email. "We are very determined to win this championship. We will have to outwork all of our competition every shift of the game."
Competition will include Finland, U.S., Russia and Slovakia.
As for the game itself, the light show is the only thing that sets deaf hockey apart. Officials still blow whistles but an off-ice official flips a switch to activate strobe lights mounted on the ledge of the boards around the ice surface to indicate there is a stoppage in play.
"The referees are reminded ahead of time that the visual stimuli takes a bit longer to respond to than auditory. People in the rink will hear the whistle but the guys don't react until a couple seconds after they've seen the strobe lights," said Vitale.
Though he doesn't have full communication abilities in sign language, Vitale said he has learned the signs for hockey terms. The team has two sign-language interpreters including one in English and one in French. It's a busy room during team meetings.
"You have a lot of action going on, some can only read lips, some need the sign language and some have a little bit of hearing, so you have to make sure in groups they can see your mouth when you're talking and have the interpreter in full view as well," he said. "It's a little bit different than just turning around and writing on a coaches' board and have them hear you. Here, you have to hold the coaches' board to face the players."
Vitale said the deaf community is tight-knit and that spirit exists on his team.
"Sometimes with hearing teams it can take some time for teams to gel, it's almost easy to get these guys to gel because there's such a bond between deaf hockey players," he said.
"These guys share a hurdle that most young people never have to get over."
The men's curling team includes Michael Raby, Andre Guillemette, Damian Hum, David Joseph, Dale Proctor and coach Denise Hoekstra. Members of the women's curling team are Judy Robertson, Sally Korol, Lynda Taylor, Nyla Kurylowich, Sherry Dunkley-Clark and coach Ross Lawrence. Dunkley-Clark is from Winnipeg.
HOCKEY: April 10-16, St. James Civic Centre; Medal games April 18, the MTS Centre
Friday: Canada has bye
Saturday: Canada vs. U.S., 1:30 p.m.
Monday: Canada vs. Slovakia, 7 p.m.
Wednesday: Canada vs. Russia, 1 p.m.
Thursday: Canada vs. Finland, 3 p.m.
Saturday, April 18: bronze-medal game, 9 a.m.; gold-medal game, 1 p.m.
CURLING: April 12-17, Heather Curling Club
For full hockey and curling schedule, see www.worlddeafhockeycurling2009.com