Isaiah Gauthier was living out his dream, skating in an arena that was once home to his favourite hockey team – the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The nine-year-old Martensville product recently went to the Canadian National Blind Hockey Tournament held at the Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre – formerly known as Maple Leaf Gardens.
“It was so fun,” said Isaiah. “The people there were so kind.”
The tournament featured 165 participants from four countries and 11 provinces, competing in six divisions, marking the largest turnout in event history.
“It’s nice to see that there’s an organization that he can go into that also has the ability to grow,”
said Isaiah’s mom Renelle.
And that wasn’t always the case for the Gauthiers. Isaiah was born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis – or LCA – which means he has some light perception and he can see some shadowing but no colour. Isaiah relies on his braille skills for learning and his cane skills for mobility, so playing hockey wasn’t necessarily the first thing Renelle thought he would be interested in. But Isaiah was determined to play.
“We started (skating), like everybody starts, with a pusher but he did not want to do that very long,” said Renelle. “He could skate at a very young age without the support of that. He just wanted to strive for independence.”
“And score some goals,” Isaiah chimed in.
The concept of blind hockey is the same as able-bodied hockey, but some of the rules have been adapted. Isaiah, being an avid hockey fan and hockey history buff, was quick to explain the differences.
“First of all, regular hockey nets are four feet tall. These hockey nets are three feet tall,” he said. “And you can’t shoot when you cross the blueline unless you pass at least once. Once you pass the puck, the refs blow a special whistle to indicate you can shoot and to tell the goalie the puck may be coming.”
Isaiah also explained how the puck is three-times the size of a regular hockey puck. It’s made of thin steel and has eight ball bearings inside, which makes a distinct sound that players can hear when it’s moving. The goalie also has to wear a blindfold or be completely blind.
Back home in Saskatchewan, Isaiah has also been involved in many blind hockey events around Saskatoon, which are tremendously supported by people in the area. And being involved with families in similar situations is something Renelle has certainly appreciated.
“The community is beautiful,” said Renelle. “It takes a village to raise a child and it also takes a village to be able to help the parents help navigate how to best provide for that child.”
In fact, Renelle notes that early on, there were times she didn’t know what participation in sport would look like for Isaiah. But once again, members of the community helped navigate – and support – Isaiah and his family.
“I prayed so much that people would just truly love Isaiah for who he is and encourage him,” said Renelle. “We can believe in our kids and encourage them as much as possible but when that village becomes part of our family unit, the sky is the limit.”
And after participating in his most recent tournament, Isaiah has set some personal goals in the sport.
“He said ‘I’m going to be the next blind hockey Gretzky,’” said Renelle.
And given his determination, that very well could happen. But what’s important for the Gauthiers is that Isaiah is able to be involved in a sport he truly loves.
“It’s a dream come true for us,” said Renelle. “It gives him an opportunity to be like every other boy.”