U of G hockey player prepares for Deaflympics
University of Guelph student Casey O'Brien is preparing to defend Canada's gold medal in hockey at the 15th Winter Deaflympic Games Feb. 26 to March 9 in Sundsvall, Sweden. O'Brien was a member of the winning team when they took home the gold in Davos, Switzerland in 1999.
The 6-foot-tall, 200-pound defenceman has a hearing impairment that leaves him able to hear the referee's whistle, but not much else. O'Brien, a third-year science student began studying horticulture at Kempville Agriculture College and then switched to U of G, partly so he could play for the varsity hockey team.
"On the ice I mostly rely on eye-hand co-ordination, reading and reacting to the play," said O'Brien. "I have to think a second quicker than most varsity players do." Occasional missed calls during drills are a bit of a standing joke among his teammates, he said.
In classes, he relies on lip reading and an electronic system that helps him pick up the instructor's words. He also uses note-takers provided through the university's Centre for Students with Disabilities.
Preparing for the trip to Europe at the end of February, O'Brien said he's been studying overtime, not to mention fitting in his daily two-hour practices on the ice. "I have to work twice as hard as the average student. I set my standards very high," he said.
In 1999 O'Brien was the third-youngest player on the Canadian squad that won the Deaflympics hockey championship in Davos, after a tight three-way race with the United States and Finland. He racked up five goals and five assists in that series, winding up with the third-highest Canadian point total.
Canada's first game in Sundsvall is March 1 versus Russia. They will also play Sweden, Finland, Germany and the United States throughout the week.
In hockey's off-season, O'Brien plays golf competitively. Last summer he was one of six men on the Canadian team that won gold at the World Deaf Golf Championships in Ireland. Although several athletes in the Canadian Deaf Sports Association have played more than one sport, few can match O'Brien's medal standing, with two gold medals in two different deaf championship sporting events, according to Danny Daniels, chef de mission for this year's Canadian hockey team.
The Deaflympics Games, first held in Paris in 1924, is among the oldest disabled sports organizations. It also receives official recognition and patronage from the International Olympic Committee.
For more information about the Deaflympic Games, visit www.deaflympics.com.
For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.