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Jarome Iginla & Reilly Smith Visit Perkins School for the Blind

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

WATERTOWN, MA - A hockey player's senses are always tested.

But Jarome Iginla and Reilly Smith's senses had never been tested quite like this.

Here's how it goes: close your eyes. Now imagine playing goalie, with no sight.

On Wednesday, January 22, with the Bruins amidst four days off from game action, the two Bruins visited Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA, and played "Goalball" with the students.

Perkins School, established more than 180 years ago, was the first school for the blind in the United States.

Goalball is geared towards blind and vision-impaired athletes, and consists of rolling a ball with bells inside that allows the players to use the sound to determine where it is. The objective is to roll the ball into the opposing goal. Stopping the ball usually involves sliding on your side once you judge it's just close enough.

Iginla and Smith wore dark goggles that made them a part of the group, relying on every sense, without being able to see.

"Good luck, you're going to need it!" was the message to the duo before heading out onto the gym floor.

It's a challenge they had never encountered, and were glad to take part in.

"We came out, and got to try a new sport, and it was fun to play against the students," said Iginla, who doesn't ever stop smiling, and certainly didn't let that change during the game.

"It was different; we had to wear some eye shades to make sure that we weren't going to cheat. It was so fun to play against the them and competing, and you definitely get an appreciation for the game. They have a very competitive team that plays nationally so it's pretty neat to come out and experience that and hang out with the kids."

Iginla may have been even called for a violation once, for even just touching the goggles to adjust them on his head. Though it was just for fun, and the opposing team received a penalty shot for it, it showed just how challenging the game can be.

"It was very challenging, and when the ball's coming, you're just rolling and don't want to get it in the face," laughed Iginla. The ball is about the size and thickness of a basketball.

"The ball actually is hard so some of the students could really gun it," he smiled. "It was neat to see how athletic and into it the kids are and how fun the game is."

"First couple of games, I didn't really know what to expect," said Smith, whose competitiveness had him sliding all over in "spider monkey" fashion.

The slower someone throws the ball, the harder it is to pick up on the bells inside the ball and how fast it's coming. Hence, some last second heroics from Smith.

"When you have a new game, it's something you want to get into. Pretty competitive, too, me and Jarome, I think we wanted to win every game, so I was sliding around a little much out there," said the Bruin.

The time spent with the students - like Brendan, who is a huge Bruins' fan and plays on the school's Goalball national team - gave the wingers a greater appreciation for the sense that is nearly a necessity in their own sport.

"It's something you don't really expect; you use your vision so much more than you actually think and you rely on it so much," said Smith. " It was a great afternoon, and just being able to spend it in these kids' shoes is a great experience."

The visit came amidst the Bruins' four-day break from game action in January, a luxury they don't often get during the busy NHL regular season.

"We get a break during the season at different times, and this is a big one for us, and it's nice to be able to come out and bring some awareness, but also come out and have some fun with the students," said Iginla. "It was cool, and something that I'll know now, and just have a little sense of what the game's about when I see it and I'll be telling me kids about it."

Smith was even anticipating his next opportunity to visit with the students, and ramp up the compete level.

"It's great and I look forward to doing this every year if we have this event, just to keep it going."

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