US Women’s Deaf Hockey Team preparing for international spotlight

John Cordes/Icon Sportswire

As May begins to dry the April showers that have soaked the Buffalo landscape, it already has been quite a historic year for women’s hockey. The national team’s battle for equality with USA hockey garnered support from almost every corner of the hockey world, and following that, the AHIHA iced its first women’s national team in two exhibitions against Canada during the World Deaf Hockey Championships.

Team USA battled a veteran Canadian team. The American squad had players ranging from 13 to 29 years old, and for many, this was the first time they competed in a game consisting of three 20-minute periods.

Inexperience aside, the players involved each had a huge role in this momentous occasion. Some, like star athlete Katelyn Koester, had the honor of performing at her home arena in her first game for the national team. Others, like Jessica Goldberg, saw the experience as a chance to grow her work with Lifetrack, where she is a mentor to to the hard-of-hearing.

Koester has been an athlete from the start. As her father told the Buffalo News, “From a very early age, Katelyn was not willing to accept any barriers. This event is very special to Katelyn not only because she gets to represent the United States and the deaf community, but also because she was fortunate enough to have played in the first ever WNY female high school varsity hockey game when she was a freshman.”

Breaking barriers is certainly nothing new for Koester, who is a multiple sport athlete at Gallaudet University after transferring from Rochester Institute of Technology. In fact, Koester took some time away from the Bisons’ softball team to take part in the international matchup.

Unfortunately for Koester, Gallaudet does not have a hockey program. Still, she was chosen for the national team after selection camp in March.

Goldberg, on the other hand, plays hockey for Minnesota’s Hamline University. Her experience at Hamline, combined with the leadership she has developed as a mentor, made Golberg a perfect choice to co-captain America’s HH women’s team.

The forward finished her senior year at Hamline eighth on her team in scoring. Her one goal and five assists certainly contributed to the Pipers’ moderate success in the team’s 2016-17 campaign.

In her career at Hamline, Goldberg had eight goals and seven assists. The chance to play on the national team could not have come at a better time for the young leader, whose continuing development is evident in her statistical growth. With selection camp occurring during her most productive season at Hamline, Goldberg was poised to take advantage of the opportunity, and she did not disappoint, providing three assists in the opening game against the Canadian women. Despite the result, a 6-4 win for Canada, Goldberg stood out.

Still, it was a battle for Goldberg.

“While playing in games, and practice, we were not allowed to wear our hearing devices. That was a struggle for many of us,” she said, reporting on her experience. “Most of us play hockey with our hearing devices in so this was a big change for all of us. Not only did players have to adjust but coaches did as well. For those of us who wear hearing aids and don’t know sign language (we) struggled to understand each other and coaches. We had to rely on our lip reading skills.”

The U.S. team lost both games to Canada, but that has not dulled the spirit of the skilled athletes of the first American HH hockey team. As described on a recent episode of the Don’t Snow the Goalie podcast, the team is moving forward with preparations for the future. Coach Jackie MacMillan is advancing her training to better work with the players, and the players are preparing for a development camp this summer.

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