Women’s hockey makes history with Deaf Hockey World Championship

(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

On April 19, the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association kicked off the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships at the Northtowns Center in Amherst, New York; a suburb of the city of Buffalo.

Hosted by the United States, teams from Kazakhstan, Czech Republic, Finland, and Canada will compete in this 10-day tournament. This year, for the first time in the tournament’s history, women will compete in an exhibition series as Canada and the US will go head-to-head on April 22 and 23.

Head coach Jackie MacMillan is honored to be taking part in the historic event. An inaugural member of the University of Wisconsin’s women’s team, the goaltender has had seven successful seasons as bench boss for St. Scholastica. The Division III school in the NCHA plays in the NCHA, and prior to pioneering the St. Scholastica women’s hockey program, MacMillan was an assistant coach at Union, a D-I school in New York.

The humble coach is quick to credit former coach Jeff Sauer for his passionate work putting the team together. “Jeff Sauer was extremely instrumental in getting the Women’s Deaf National Team started,” she explained. “He has been involved with the men’s team for many years and Coach Sauer was very passionate about growing the game.”

The team from the US has not had much time to play together; there was a tryout held in March before the roster was announced on April 3. The women have not met since then and will get one practice the night before the first game takes place. “In an ideal world, we would have more time to work together prior to competition. But, we will have only one day of practice prior to our first game aside from the tryout weekend we had last month.”

“Given that this will be the first competition for the Women at the World Championships, the biggest obstacle for us will be the lack of time spent together prior to competition,” MacMillan said.

Still, the team is anxious to take the ice and represent their country. “I think people will see a lot of excitement and energy coming from both teams. I know every player on our team feels great pride in being able to have this opportunity and represent their country on this type of stage.

“Any time that you get an opportunity to be part of a ‘first’ it is always something that people will remember,” she added.

When asked if there was a pre-existing rivalry between the US and Canada, MacMillan didn’t say yes… but she didn’t say no, either. “There is a rivalry with the USA and Canada in any type of hockey competition, whether it be men or women.”

Given her past, MacMillan is clearly no stranger to making history, and it’s been a monumental month for women’s sports. The senior women’s national team won an important standoff with USA Hockey, and soon after that, the Irish Women’s National Soccer Team succeeded in securing better treatment from their governing body. MacMillan and her team are excited to be a part of that. “I feel very blessed to be a part of this team,” she said, and quickly spread the credit again; “It is special for me to be able to be a part of what Coach Sauer started and hopefully I’ll be able to continue to be a part of growing the sport and helping provide opportunities for women that haven’t always been available.

MacMillan continued to honor Sauer and his contributions. “This is great for women, but more importantly this weekend will be very symbolic of the character and impact that Jeff Sauer has had on the growth of ice hockey. He was very instrumental in helping grow the women’s game at the college level and now he’s had a major impact on getting this program started.”

The game action will be streamed at this link, and those who are in the Buffalo area can find the tournament schedule here. Opportunities to experience moments such as this are rare, and surely this will be a memorable occasion for the players, coaches staff, and even the fans.

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