Hearing loss doesn’t slow down the hard work of hand keeper Eric Dillner


NORTH BRAFORD – He looks up at the glass as he leaves the crease to play the puck, as the game mirrors Hand’s junior hockey goalie Eric Dillner.

He can see the failure before the other team come towards him from behind. And he can see where his teammates are.

“Because I can’t hear them say ‘one over!’ “Or something like that,” Dillner said.

Dillner is hard of hearing, normally wears a hearing aid in his left ear but has difficulty wearing it on the ice. Playing with the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association (AHIHA), however, made him a better skater and eased his transition to the net two years ago. And luckily, his goaltending coach dad is there to help.

So there, in this reflection of his own, is the game, as he would like to be: inclusive, a family and proof of the value of work.

“(The Tigers) all know who the hardest worker on the ice is,” said Hand coach Brian Gonsalves. “Everyone on the list feeds on this. They turn to him for a bit of advice, how to get better.

“If he’s willing to do it, every day, even when he’s successful – even if he’s having a bad day, he comes up, ‘what can I do to get better?’ It comes after an 8-0 shutout against Scarsdale (NY), the very next practice, ‘what can I do to improve myself?’ It fuels the boys, from freshmen to seniors. “

Dillner helped the Tigers go 18-5-1 last year, setting an academic record for wins en route to the Division III semifinals. Back in Division II this season, they are 9-1 heading into Friday’s game against rival Guilford and Saturday’s game against Cheshire.

He mostly played defense growing up at the Northford Ice Pavilion. But his father, also named Eric, was a goaltender in his youth and has become a goaltender coach at West Haven High School in recent years. Young Eric has sometimes entered the net.

“The camp I go to in Chicago, AHIHA, I would bring a set of equipment sometimes and play goals there,” said Dillner. “Since Hand didn’t have a goalkeeper, I said, ‘I’ll do it. “”

He made the switch full-time two seasons ago in his freshman year. This transition in itself brings a set of challenges; many of his competitors were already chatting with college scouts when he was just trying to learn the job. He had to learn the technical aspects, “not just struggling all over the place”.

Doing so as a hard of hearing goaltender, in a position where communication is so important, brought other challenges.

“You’re kind of like the all-seeing quarterback. I have to tell my defense and the attackers what to do, ”Dillner said.

Getting everyone on the same page defensively involves a lot of pre-game talk.

“His work ethic is incredible,” Hand junior defenseman John Gagliardi said. “He continues to work harder and harder every year. He has improved a lot since the first year. It is an incredible achievement.

“His work ethic is also great for feeding himself. We can look at it and say, hey, that didn’t happen overnight. These are countless hours.

Wearing a hearing aid is uncomfortable on the ice, said Dillner; it rubs in his helmet. Gonsalves said he would check with officials before a game to ask them to be loud with their whistles and voices. Dillner said he could hear a little better in his right ear.

“Since I can only hear from one side, I can’t hear the steering,” Dillner said. “If someone calls me, I’ll go around in circles before I find them.”

His father was a key resource in learning the job, he said, not only learning what to do physically, but managing the job mentally.

Elder Dillner grew up playing on goal in some top programs in St. Louis. He thought that at some point hockey could be a career; it didn’t turn out that way, but his son brought him back to the game when the family reunited with his wife’s family in West Haven. And then his son became a goalkeeper.

“He said, what should I do? I said there were angles, depth and attitude, ”said elder Dillner, who is licensed to train his son, and only his son, in Hand’s training. “He took it all and went all the way with them.

“He treats him like an engineer, the whole game. It’s really cool. “Tell me the process by which I do this, and I will. “

It’s an ethic young Dillner has always had, his father said, using what he learned from his hearing loss to complement his other senses.

“The community, the Hearing Impaired Hockey Association, has been very helpful in doing this,” said Elder Dillner. “You can call it a challenge, or you can call it a community that you can belong to.”

The youngest Dillner still goes to camp in Chicago in June; he won a few AHIHA awards and organized fundraisers. He hopes to one day give back to the organization as a coach, like AHIHA President and Coach Kevin Delaney, who is also a skills and skating coach for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Gintoli family of Shelton, along with the Deaf World Hockey Champions and the Deaflympics Champions, are friends, among many who have been made there.

“Many of them are completely deaf. I have to be able to communicate with them without saying a word, ”said Dillner. “I have to wave my arms, point my finger, say ‘you have to go here’ without saying a word.

“It’s tough sometimes, but it’s also fascinating to watch an entire hockey game where no one is screaming. These are just pucks, sticks and skates.

The game, thoughtful.


@ ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp


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