Winnipeg, Manitoba - Limitations have never been a problem for Jim Kyte. When he began his professional hockey career with the Winnipeg Jets in 1982, he became the first legally deaf person to ever play in the NHL. And that career lasted as he brought his hard-nosed style of play to Calgary, his hometown of Ottawa, and San Jose over the course of nearly 600 NHL regular season games.
Rather than seeing his deafness as a handicap, Kyte saw it as an opportunity to become a student of the game. He memorized the systems and mastered his ice awareness in order to be an impactful player. Though this meant constant focus and extra hours at the rink figuring out ways to adapt, Kyte was up for the task.
"When you go back for the puck, normal hearing people can hear the skates of the player behind them to judge where they are," said Kyte. "I didn't have that luxury, so going back to the puck, I would look at the glass and get a mirror-like reflection to see where the players were behind me."
That, along with always scanning to see if there were five opposing jerseys in front of him, were just some of the many adaptations Kyte had to make on the ice to be an effective player.
In 1997, Kyte was forced to make a more serious adaptation after he was blindsided by another challenge - a nearly fatal car accident in Kansas City where he was playing for the San Jose Sharks minor league team. The accident resulted in a year-long recovery and post-concussion syndrome that forced him to retire from hockey entirely. But again Kyte refused to throw in the towel.
"Life is hard, and you have to face each day head on," Kyte said. "You need to work hard, have a positive attitude, and be a good team player, because you can't accomplish anything in this world without other people helping you along the way in some fashion. And you need perseverance. There's going to be a lot of naysayers out there saying you can or you can't do this. So, you have to believe in yourself."
Following the crash, Kyte shifted his focus from hockey to academia. In 2007 Kyte earned his MBA from Royal Roads University where he finished at the top of his class, and today serves as the Dean of the Hospitality and Tourism program at Ottawa's Algonquin College. He says it's his hockey experience that taught him to keep pushing forward.
"One thing you learn in the National Hockey League is that you're only as good as you are today," Kyte remarked. "What you did in the past doesn't count. So you need to be able to produce every day, because someone who's not in the NHL is waiting for you to falter so they can take your spot. The same thing happens in business. You need to be able to come to work, you need to be able to have a positive attitude, put the hours in, be smart about it, and educate yourself. It's not rocket science, but I think having the right attitude goes a long way to predicting success."
But it appears that what Kyte has done in the past does count after all, as the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame will be honouring him as one of five 2018 inductees.
"There are many players that I grew up admiring in the hall of fame already, such as Doug Wilson and Denis Potvin," said Kyte. "It's nice to join the hall and be recognized by your community. It's humbling to be considered, let alone inducted."
Though as a player, Kyte's hockey credentials are enough to get him inducted, his resume of service to the community puts him over the top. Kyte and his family, many of whom also have hearing deficiencies, have long been involved in Canadian Deaf Hockey. In February, Kyte along with brothers John, Robert, and Frayne, nieces Abigail and Emma, and nephews Sean, Thomas, and Johnny, all took part in the Canada Deaf Games, which brought the family back to Winnipeg, where Kyte's NHL career began. The family played as Team Kyte in the hockey event and won the gold medal.
Kyte will be receiving another tribute to his work next year. DASCH, a Winnipeg non-profit organization that provides opportunity, supports, and environments in which persons living with developmental disabilities can fulfill their potential, plans to recognize Kyte at their 2019 Possibilities Gala.
But before all of those honours get bestowed upon him, Kyte was thrilled to be made an honourary colonel in the Air Force by the Canadian Armed Forces in May. With both of his grandfathers serving in the Great War, one grandfather and two uncles serving in WWII, his father joining the Canadian Merchant Navy, and his father-in-law serving as a helicopter pilot for the RCAF in the Korean War, it was his chance to follow in their footsteps.
"I'm humbled and honoured to be asked to represent my country. I wouldn't be able to join the military because of my hearing deficiencies, but this is one small role that I can play."
With the choice of which branch of the Armed Forces to join, Kyte said the decision wasn't easy. But given that Kyte spent so many years in a Jets jersey, it was only fitting to have him don the blue uniform of the Air Force. Though Kyte won't actually be taking flight in any fighter jets, it seems that no matter what comes his way, the sky's the limit.