For recreation league athletes, there’s nothing worse than when one of your teammates drops out at the last minute. When a rec league ice hockey team in Edmonton needed a goaltender, they got a save from an unlikely hero.
Nelson Rego is 100% blind: and by filling in as goalie for an acquaintance’s team, he became the first ever blind player to play in a sighted team in the province’s history.
Rego plays blind ice hockey for the Edmonton “SeeHawks” and met another goaltender, John Hunter, inquiring online about gear modifications and a chest protector. Later Hunter got injured, and trying to help his team find a goalie for a league game, he reached out on the Edmonton Goalies Facebook page.
“This is low level stuff so beginners to pro welcome!!! DM me if you’re interested and we’ll get you set up,” wrote Hunter.
“Nelson calls me, and he kind of starts out with, ‘Hey, how’s the chest protector going?” Hunter later told Edmonton news about the remarkable story. “By the way, I’m not sure if this is a good idea or not but I saw your post for a goalie sub for your league game tonight. What do you think about me playing?’”
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The team was “all in” and so Nelson strapped on his kit and got ready for his first-ever sighted league match.
“Legends are born”
According to the players, they didn’t tell the referee until the puck drop that their goalie was blind—information with which he didn’t really what to do. In an interview with CTV Edmonton, Rego, who has also driven motorcycles and racecars since going blind, explains he keeps himself centered in the goal by measuring the distance between the posts with his stick and his glove.
After he uses sound to key into where the puck is and if it’s being challenged, all the while following audio instructions from his loving wife Emelinda, in the stands relaying the action.
The game was by no means a washout, and even though Rego’s team lost 9-8, he hung in there and earned the respect and admiration of the team.
“They made no accommodations for me,” Rego said. “It was just like being one of the guys on the team and that whole comradery thing that you get with a team that’s the thing that I really love the most.”
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Hunter would later post on Facebook that “These are the nights where legends are born.”
“Good for him, he’s something; bragging rights,” said one spectator.
This remarkable night, “a childhood dream” as he would call it on Facebook, is just one step in his hockey career, as Rego also plays in the International Blind Ice Hockey Federation, and is sponsored by the Edmonton equipment outfitter Hockey Shop of Horrors.
“I’d say just go for it,” Rego says. “If it’s something you want to do, just do it. It’s amazing watching hockey, but it’s even better playing it.”
(WATCH the video for this story below.)
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