A young hockey player from Blackfalds is gearing up to play for Team Canada in the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships in Finland.
Cole Laing, 17, took part in the Canada Deaf Games in May of last year in Edmonton. Last August, he was selected to attend the training camp in Toronto.
He was later chosen to play for Team Canada in the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships and couldn’t be more excited about the amazing opportunity.
“I had a good feeling about it,” he explains, pointing out there were players from across the country hoping for a spot on the team. “I felt proud of myself because I knew this was where I wanted to go – this is my dream.”
Only Laing, who is in Grade 12 at Ecole Secondaire Lacombe Composite High School, and one other player from Alberta will be representing the province on the national team. He’s been playing hockey since he was about five years old, and just finished up another outstanding year of minor hockey with the Lacombe Midget AA’s.
He heads to Toronto to reconvene with his team for a few days of practices before they fly out to Finland. He’ll be there until April 7.
The Finnish Athletic Association of the Deaf (FAAD) is responsible for arranging the tournament. Five countries have made the final entry: Finland, Sweden, Russia, Canada and United States. Cole is thrilled for the opportunity, and emphasizes that the journey couldn’t have started without sponsorship support from TechWest in Calgary as well.
Of course for Cole, being hard of hearing brings its own set of challenges – but he has never for a second let that stand in his way of pursuing whatever he sets his mind to. His mother, Leah, said she and her husband Trevor made sure he knew growing up that he could enjoy a huge spectrum of opportunities in life.
“I was born deaf, but I did have surgery for a cochlear implant.”
He also reads lips well and underwent speech therapy when he was younger. And in a sport where there can be a lot of noise when it comes to communicating, he largely has to rely on other cues.
In Finland, he will also be removing his cochlear implant hearing aid – this will put the team members on an even playing field as some don’t have cochlear implants.
Each player has to be at the point where they can’t hear speech, explains Cole’s mother Leah. “At a 55 decibel loss, you wouldn’t be able to hear speech,” she said. “And nobody will be able to hear the whistle. When Cole takes off the implant, he can’t hear speech or the whistle. It just puts everyone at the same level.
“On this team there will be players with cochlear implants, others with hearing aids and those who wear absolutely nothing and don’t speak at all. And they all just become one team.”
Cole agrees, but explains that he enjoys playing hockey no matter what the case – with deaf teammates or his ‘hearing’ friends. It really boils down to the camaraderie.
“Over there they will have strobe lights. The ref will blow the whistle and the strobe lights go on – that’s how the play starts.”
For his folks, who will be joining him in Finland, seeing their son land this opportunity has been a joy. “I was very nervous, but I think he’ll do great. I’m very excited for him,” says Leah. When Cole was a youngster, she was a figure skating coach. Her boy would of course be on the ice much of the time as well.
Cole was just a baby when his folks noticed he wasn’t responding to auditory cues. Doctors said he was ‘profoundly deaf’, and he wore hearing aids until he was about four-years-old. At that point, he received the cochlear implants. “He’s done really, really well with it.” Today, Cole also has an interpreter to help out for his school studies.
Leah recalled the time about one year ago when her son first learned of the opportunity to play hockey with others who are deaf. “Cole was saying he had been wondering if there was deaf hockey. He found out about Finland, and he said ‘I’m going there’.
The family then learned of the Canada Deaf Games in Edmonton last spring.
“I want people to know that this is out there for people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” added Leah. “There are many, many sports available to them and places for them to travel to play. And we are so excited for him. I’m so excited to have him representing Alberta, too. I’m so proud.
“We’re very excited. Our extended family are also extremely excited and send encouraging emails all the time. Teachers are very excited for him as well.”
For Cole, it’s also important to get the word out that there is so much out there for deaf people to take part in. “I want everyone to know there are a lot of sports that they can do, and that they have the opportunity to play what they love – there’s basketball, soccer, volleyball – lots of stuff.”
Over the years, Leah points out that her son has always received such solid community support each step of the way – whether that be in school or taking part in a range of recreational pursuits.
“All of his hockey coaches during his growing up years weren’t intimidated by the fact he is deaf. It’s been a great, great community for Cole.”