Peter Koutroumpis (@pksport)
RALEIGH, NC – Twelve years is a long time.
And a lot has happened during that amount of time – particularly so with the sport of Blind Hockey.
And notably, the Triangle has been the setting in which much has taken place in.
Mark DeMontis, the iconic figure and driving force of growing the sport is back in the area.
As the guest of the Triangle Sports Network, DeMontis will take in the NHL Stadium Series outdoor game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals that will face off at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday.
Adversity leads to inspiration
After losing his sight at age 17, the Toronto, Ontario native founded Courage Canada back in 2009, and by inline skating across Canada, DeMontis raised funds and awareness for Blind Hockey in his home country.
He began leading various skating sessions for visually impaired youth in different provinces back then.
He then expanded his scope and reach to initiate programming internationally, and into the United States for the first time.
That’s where the City of Oaks comes in.
Courage Carolina Blind Hockey Puck Project lights the fuse
The Courage Carolina Blind Hockey Puck Project was the subsequent initiative DeMontis took on leading into the 2011 NHL All-Star Week in Raleigh which sought to raise awareness of, and about the growth and development of of the sport.
Nothing was getting in the way of the then 24-year old to slow the momentum he was building up to put the sport on the map internationally.
When he arrived, DeMontis and Matt Morrow, current director of Canadian Blind Hockey, brought the then-current versions of the ‘pucks’ used to play the game up North back then.
The ‘Toronto puck’ was a plastic toy wagon wheel with metal nuts/bolts inside to provide audible stimulus for the players to locate the puck.
The ‘Montreal puck’ was a 48-ounce juice can painted black and also filled with nuts/bolts, while the ‘Vancouver puck’ was a heavy-weighted metal prototype containing ball bearings which best resembled a standard rubberized hockey puck.
They all had limitations and an updated version was needed as a result of such diversified samples used to play in different parts of Canada.
The development of the Blind Hockey puck, a standardized version, was a focal point for project in Raleigh.
DeMontis worked collaboratively with NC State University’s Department of Textile Engineering, and had a team of eight senior design students work with Courage Canada (now known as Canadian Blind Hockey as of 2016) to create functional blueprints that would lead to the creation of a new, improved adaptive hockey puck.
Making strides and kicking ice
DeMontis and I worked together to formulate and develop the detailed logistics of holding various promotional events over four days in Raleigh during the 2011 All-Star Week.
He sounded the siren before the Hurricanes dropped the puck against DeMontis’ hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.
Along with the engineering students from NC State and their professor, Dr. Russell Gorga, Mark had a display of the group’s work set up on the concourse to educate fans of the work being done to advance the sport.
The next day, DeMontis spent time on the campus and spoke to students at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind.
On Day Three, DeMontis led a skating session with five students from Governor Morehead, the first-ever Blind Hockey event Courage Canada held in the U.S.
Paul Strand, then Youth Hockey Coordinator for the Carolina Hurricanes, and his staff were there along with members of the NC State Hockey Club who helped lead the skating session at the outdoor Winterfest rink in downtown Raleigh.
Sowing the seeds of growth
The whirlwind schedule of events concluded with a fundraiser.
With some seed funding, and coupled with the research presented by the engineering students from NC State, DeMontis left the Triangle accomplishing his mission of increasing awareness for the sport reaping the results of a successful execution of the Courage Carolina Blind Puck Project initiative.
The work completed in Raleigh helped to advance support of more creations of prototypes in coming years.
Those would eventually be used as the foundation of research and development to eventually create the puck’s current version used in play.
There was a standardized puck to be used in Blind Hockey, and that was a pivotal advancement to improve the quality of play and growth of the sport to this day.
Taking it to the next level
DeMontis has returned to Raleigh in 2023 to continue to promote the sport of Blind Hockey while he takes in Saturday’s 2023 NHL Stadium Series Outdoor Game.
We reminisced the other night on how much has happened since 2011, feeling really good about it all when we really think about it.
Since his first arrival in the City of Oaks 12 years earlier, the sport is now played competitively internationally and has continued to grow and develop in six countries currently.
A long way from just three teams in Canada.
The tireless efforts of Mark and his supporters, including those in the Triangle, will continue to fuel his efforts to fulfill his hopes of getting the sport that much closer to being recognized as an official Para-Olympic sport.
It will happen, definitely sooner than later.
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