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Blind hockey players attend Dix Hills clinic

More than a dozen residents from New York City, Westchester and Long Island took part in a free hockey clinic for the visually impaired and blind Sunday. NY Metro Blind Hockey is a league led by Ted Caputo, a sergeant with the Suffolk County Police Department. Also in attendance was former Boston Bruins winger Willie O'Ree, the first African-American NHL player, who was blind in his right eye. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

When Anthony Aulicino, legally blind since a stroke in 2016, told his mother about a blind hockey clinic, she was skeptical.

“I’m like, ‘Are you crazy? How’s that going to work? You’re going to get hurt,’” Tina Aulicino, of Massapequa, recalled Sunday. “He said, ‘Mom, it’s ok. I can do this.’”

At the Dix Hills Ice Rink Sunday, Anthony Aulicino, 27, strapped on skates for the first time and stepped onto the ice. Flanked by volunteers at first, he went off by himself across the rink. Then he was handed a hockey stick and started to pass the extra-large puck.

“It’s pretty cool,” Anthony Aulicino said off the ice.

More than a dozen residents from New York City, Westchester and Long Island took part in a free hockey clinic for the visually impaired and blind Sunday.

Besides the usual swoosh of ice skates, the rink was filled with the racket of the steel puck filled with ball bearings being passed around and shot on goal. A guide dog sat on the bench.

In blind hockey, besides the special pucks, the goals are less tall to keep the puck closer to the ground, so players can track it. The completely blind play goalie or defense. Those with less limited sight play offense, but have to pass at least once before a shot on goal.

Sunday, players from the Washington Elite and Hartford Braillers put on a scrimmage demonstration.

The first black NHL player, Willie O’Ree, also attended. O’Ree had loss of vision in one eye, and he spoke to the players beforehand about a doctor who told him he’d never make the NHL. “If I had listened to him, I wouldn’t have,” he said.

Ted Caputo, president of New York Metro Blind Hockey, and a Suffolk resident and father of two boys with visual impairments, organized the event. Caputo held another clinic in October at the Islanders’ practice facility in East Meadow. Another is planned for Central Park in the fall.

He hopes to find enough players from the New York metro area to build a team to compete with teams in Pittsburgh; Washington, D.C.; Hartford, Connecticut and elsewhere, in a sport that has been established in Canada and is growing in the United States.

“It went great. We definitely had some interest and people will definitely return,” he said of the clinic.

Caputo’s two sons, Anthony, 9, and Timmy, 14, were diagnosed at a young age with ectopia lentis, a condition where the lenses in the eye are dislocated. Both play traditional hockey with the help of corrective lenses, and blind hockey without.

Timmy, wearing a New York “eyelanders” hockey jersey, said he likes both versions of the sport but prefers blind hockey.

“I feel no pressure. Everyone’s on the same level,” he said, adding, “It’s an amazing way to connect with both the blind and non-blind. Everybody’s networking.”

Ted Caputo is passionate about building up fans. At a New York Islanders game in November with his sons, he saw a group of men walking with canes and recruited them to come to the next clinic.

Two of those fans, Carlos Torres, of Chelsea, and John Diodato, of Brooklyn, took the train out to Sunday’s skate.

“It’s like I hit the lotto,” Torres said after one skate.

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the Washington Elite.

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