Neveah Milman had only ever skated twice before. The third time she stepped on the ice, it was with the Flames.

“I was a little scared, I was scared to fall,” said the seven-year-old Neveah

She did fall a couple of times, but did she have fun?

“Yes, yes, yes.”

Neveah was one of thirty visually impaired and legally blind participants at the Flames Foundation’s Learn to Skate and Learn to Play Blind Hockey event Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The event was a partnership between the Flames Foundation, the Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind (ASRAB) and Canadian Blind Hockey as part of the NHL’s month-long “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

“[It’s] inspiring; this is such an amazing opportunity for her – just watching [her], she lights up,” said Neveah’s mother Justyne. “Even talking to other parents around here, I heard one parent [say], ‘my child was just in the hospital today’, and now to see her with a big smile on her face that’s just amazing. I’m just taken aback. Big thanks to the Flames.”

The participants, mostly children, teens and young adults, were joined on the ice by current Flames including Matthew Tkachuk and Dougie Hamilton, as well as several prominent Flames alumni.

“What a great opportunity to give back to our great community and to see the different age groups and tradition of the Flames organization,” said Lanny McDonald, captain of the 1989 Stanley Cup-winning team. “To be able to come out and do this today, it was awesome.”

The ice was divided into different sections for participants of varying skating experience.

Some guests, like Neveah, were learning the basics of skating while partnered up with alumni and players, while one of the offensive zones was dedicated to blind hockey drills led by Canadian Blind Hockey Canada executive director Matt Morrow as players completed passing and shooting exercises alongside Flames players.

“Canadian Blind Hockey has been running Learn to Skate and Try Blind Hockey programs for the last six seasons all across Canada,” said Morrow. “Recently we’ve been doing some Learn to Skate/Try Blind Hockey programs with NHL clubs in the United States as part of the Hockey is for Everyone initiative, and this was the first time that a Canadian NHL club decided to invite us out for a skate and try blind hockey at their facility.”

For Linda McPhail, executive director of ASRAB, the event was both a special experience for participants and an opportunity for more people to learn about the organization, which provides development and competitive sport programs to Albertans who are blind or visually impaired.

“There’s a lot of people that we don’t reach because they don’t know about us and our capacity to get our message out is not as great as the Flames capacity is,” said MacPhail. “Plus, for our members, when do they get to come into the Saddledome? It’s just awesome to be on the ice and to be with [their] hockey heroes, it’s really motivating and encouraging.

“We really hope that they can see that they’re learning to skate today and that they can play hockey and that they can do anything they want in a physically active lifestyle.”

The NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone campaign continues throughout the month of February.

Article by Daniel Rocchi