VANCOUVER -- Watching goaltender Gary Steeves shift his body into a save on a rising short-side shot during a game of ball hockey at the NHL Centennial Fan Arena on Sunday was impressive.
Finding out after the game that Steeves is totally blind made it even more remarkable.
Steeves is the president of the Canadian Blind Hockey Association. He was making saves in a demonstration game after posing for a Vancouver Eclipse team photo with the Stanley Cup and accepting a $5,000 grant from the Vancouver Canucks and the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone initiative.
[RELATED: Hockey is for Everyone coverage | NHL Centennial Fan Arena schedule]
"I think people are sometimes amazed when they watch us and understand what is going on," Steeves said. "It's a lot of fun and we're trying to get the sport out there and give more kids and adults who are blind a chance to come out and enjoy the sport of hockey."
As good as it looked in the ball hockey rink at the NHL Centennial Fan Arena, Steeves and his Eclipse teammates can usually be found on the ice. Instead of bells inside a Wiffle ball like the one they used Sunday, they rely on a hollow, oversized metal puck with bearings inside to help them follow the play on the ice.
According to Matt Morrow, who was refereeing the game Sunday and is the executive director of Canadian Blind Hockey, the forwards are legally blind, with a maximum of 10 percent vision. Defensemen typically have either no vision or are 2-5 percent, at most.
"And the goalies are, by rule, totally blind," Morrow said.
It's as hard as it sounds, no matter how easy Steeves makes it look.
Morrow found that out when he filled in while Steeves was away getting a guide dog.
"I put on his gear and played first two-thirds of the game sighted and I didn't have too much trouble," Morrow said. "I put the blindfold on, and they scored six goals on seven shots."
Between saves on Sunday, Steeves was trying to educate fans lining the makeshift outdoor area to watch them play. In order to score, the attacking team must first complete one pass after gaining the blue line into the offensive zone, which allows the defensemen and goalies one more chance to track the moving puck. Morrow used a special hand-held whistle that alerted players when the puck was in their end and a shot might be coming.
"It's really good to get out and showcase our game in public," Steeves said.
It was also a perfect fit for the NHL Centennial Fan Arena, an interactive tour that will stop in 31 cities around North America.
While the blind players put on their show, fans lined up 100 deep in light rain for the chance to get their picture taken with the Stanley Cup, cleared the ice in a virtual reality Zamboni experience, or took refuge in 53-foor museum trailer with more than 1,000 square feet of interactive displays, original video content and memorabilia from some of the game's greats and some from the biggest names in Canucks history, including a Kirk McLean mask, Pavel Bure skates and the stick Trevor Linden used in his last game on April 5, 2008.
"This is great," said Bobby Sandhu, a 22-year-old who was wearing an Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid jersey. "It gives fans everywhere a chance to see the history of the game."