Trey Wilson can’t hear the crowd cheering when he scores a goal, and he’s scored several since discovering hockey was the perfect outlet for his energy.
The 25-year-old left-winger from Riverside was born deaf, meaning he can’t hear the creak of skates on the ice or the shrill chirp of a referee’s whistle, sounds as essential to hockey as pucks and the sticks.
For Wilson, not being able to hear is not a problem. This certainly did not prevent him from excelling in the sport which he practiced naturally and without fear of being disadvantaged.
“No, not at all,” he signed, with his girlfriend Delaynee Watson as interpreter. “I always kept my head up, passed the puck and made sure I knew what was going on.
Wilson has always played on teams with players who can hear, and he transferred from Martin Luther King High – where he met Watson – to Valencia to play for the Valencia Flyers junior team. Communication problems meant that he was not always well received by his teammates, but he was never discouraged.
“Sometimes they’re tough on me and sometimes they treat me like an equal,” he said, “because that’s how hockey is.”
Hockey also proved to be his ticket to a rare experience.
This weekend he will play for Team USA at the second World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships in Vantaa, Finland under the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Assn. and American Hockey. The 23 players are between the ages of 19 and 47 and all have a hearing loss of at least 55 decibels in their “better” ear. Hearing aids or cochlear implants cannot be worn during competition. Many have played on traditional teams, including goaltender Jeff Mansfield for Princeton and others at Rochester Institute of Technology and club teams.
In this competition, like the Deaflympics, strobe lights around the rink will flash to alert players to stoppages. The tournament begins on Saturday and ends on April 6.
“I’m so excited, no words can describe it,” Wilson said recently in Anaheim after meeting several Ducks after a morning practice session. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
This will be Wilson’s first international championship. He did not make the 2007 Deaflympics team or the 2009 world championship bronze medalist squad, and the 2011 Deaflympics were canceled after the chief organizer embezzled the money who had been paid for the hotel rooms. The loss of those funds still hurts: For the first time, American players have been asked to pay for their airfare to the team’s training camp in Albany, NY, to help defray costs estimated at $5,000 to $6,000 for the trip.
“If there are guys who are having problems, we can help them,” said coach Jeff Sauer, who won two NCAA men’s titles at the University of Wisconsin and now coaches the USA Team of the Deaf and the Paralympic Sledge Hockey Team.
“It’s quite an expensive business, and the fact that the last Olympics were canceled, we invested quite a bit of money. We really didn’t recoup all of that for this trip.”
Sauer said he’s known Wilson for about 15 years and coached him at the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Assn’s annual June hockey school. in the Chicago area. The organization was started by Hockey Hall of Famer Stan Mikita and Chicago businessman Irv Tiahnybik, and the camp in recent years has been led by former King Tony Granato, assistant coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sauer has been involved with the school for nearly 35 years and has enjoyed seeing Wilson’s progress.
“He improved, passed the trials and did a great job,” Sauer said. “I can’t wait to see how he does in international competition. He has been to our camps several times and he has really developed as a player.
Sauer said the team will have a sign language interpreter on their bench to help with communication. He designed signs related to hockey terminology that are easy to understand.
“The problem with these kids is that they’re hockey players — they just can’t hear,” Sauer said. “They understand the game. They know when they’ve had a penalty or they know when they’re offside, so that part is not the instruction part. The instruction part is getting them to play the systems we want, forechecking and defensive zone coverage, and that sort of thing.
“The most important thing with them is that as soon as we bring them together, there is a tremendous chemistry. Most of them, when they go home to play, play in teams that hear. And either they’re pushed to the end of the bench or people ignore them because they’re intimidated or worried that they can’t communicate. as a team very quickly. It’s really very easy.
Wilson, who said he planned to return to school after the world championships and become a physical therapist, was too impressed to ask the Ducks for hockey advice when he visited Anaheim. But he said Bobby Ryan gave advice on food in Finland.
“He said, ‘I hope you like fish in white sauce because you’ll eat a lot of it,'” Wilson said with a smile. “I just can’t wait.”