Two members of the Boston Bruins got a lesson on what it’s like to play a sport designed for people who are blind or vision impaired on Thursday afternoon.
Pavel Zacha and Tomas Nosek each donned a pair of goggles that blacked out their vision, and had to defend a goal that was about 30 feet wide. On the other end were three experienced members of the Perkins School for the Blind goal ball team.
The ball used in the game is smaller than a basketball but larger than a soccer ball, and it makes a sound as it bounces and rolls along the gymnasium floor. Teams take turns shooting by rolling or bouncing the ball along the floor. Their opponents do their best to stop the shot, often by laying out with arms fully stretched above their heads.
After the first half the game was knotted at 8, and another seven-minute half did not separate the teams. Final score: Perkins 13, Bruins 13.
Zacha said he had seen a little bit of goal ball on television, but had never played the sport.
“It’s hard. You have to focus much more on one sense. It’s crazy not knowing where you are,” Zacha said. “Playing hockey, it’s all about the vision, so losing that aspect of the game it’s hard.”
Perkins was familiar to Nosek, because he drives past campus on the way to practice at Warrior Arena in Brighton.
“I know it was a school for blind people. I knew what was going on,” Nosek said. “Being here, it’s been fun playing with the kids. I hope they enjoyed it like I did.”
Just getting back on the floor for a competitive game was special for the Perkins students, said senior Annika.
“It felt great to play after two years of not playing,” she said. “We usually have tournaments with other schools and they got cancelled because of COVID.”
She first took up goal ball when she was in third grade, and started playing on the Perkins team in eighth grade. When Annika gets her hands on the ball she backs up to her own goal, then winds up and fires the ball down court at a high rate of speed.
“I’m a better shooter than a blocker,” she said. “I like trick people by throwing the ball down and then moving around the court and shooting. It’s unexpected because they hear the ball … And having a strong shot also helps.”
Zacha said he and his Nosek got a warm welcome to Perkins.
“When you rare competitive like we are, it’s nice to see them excited before the game,” Zacha said. “They were excited to see us, which is great to see.”