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15-year-old from Edmonton becomes youngest player to join Canada's men's blind hockey team

Dante Giammarioli, in grey, skates in a practice session at the Hockey Vimy Ridge Academy, on April 5, 2024. (Nahreman Issa / CTV News Edmonton) Dante Giammarioli, in grey, skates in a practice session at the Hockey Vimy Ridge Academy, on April 5, 2024. (Nahreman Issa / CTV News Edmonton)
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A 15-year-old Edmonton boy is the youngest player to make Canada's blind hockey men's team.

Autosomal recessive Stargardt disease has left Dante Giammarioli with about seven per cent of his vision. The genetic degenerative disease increasingly impacts a person's central vision over time.

A few weeks ago, after participating in various Canadian National Blind Hockey divisions and camps for the previous year, Giammarioli was invited to meet with several of the league's coaches and general manager.

"Congrats," he remembers them saying. "You're the youngest player to be on the national team."

"I was shocked. I was in disbelief," Giammarioli recalled in a recent interview with CTV News Edmonton.

"It was just so surreal and astonishing."

'A whole new opportunity'

Giammarioli started playing hockey when he was about five years old, about three years before he started to lose his vision.

The disease began to progress more rapidly when he was about 12 years old.

"That's when I started to notice the regular puck's a lot harder to see, I'm missing a lot of my shots, harder to see passes, harder to give passes," he said.

Now, Giammarioli relies on his peripheral vision because his central vision is so spotty.

In the national blind league, players are classified according to the amount of functional vision they have.

They use a puck that is 2.5 inches wider and 2/3 of an inch taller. It is also made out of steel and is hollow to carry ball bearings that rattle as the puck moves across the ice.

Blind hockey's nets are one foot shorter and goalies must either be blind or blindfolded.

Additionally, blind hockey mandates that an attacking team must pass at least once after crossing the offensive blue line before attempting to score.

When his vision began worsening in junior high school, Giammarioli tried to not think about one day not being able to play the sport he loved.

Blink hockey changed that.

"It was a whole new opportunity. It was just astonishing for me to be able to play the sport I love for the rest of my life with adaptations for what I am."

'Such a diverse sport'

Giammarioli will play his first games with the national adult team this week in St. Louis, Miss., in the International Blind Ice Hockey Series against the U.S.

Additionally, the right winger still plays regular league hockey as well as for his school, the Hockey Vimy Ridge Academy, alongside full-sighted players.

"It can be pretty deceiving for a lot of people," he said of his disability. "I use it to my advantage when I'm playing against other teams. It'll look like I'm looking, say, just straight down at the puck, but in reality I'm looking around me to see if anyone's going to come at me for a hit or if I have passing options and stuff."

"If a puck's coming from a far difference at a high rate of speed, he doesn't see it until the last second, so he reacts a little bit late to the puck, which will disrupt the play at times. But outside of that, he keeps up just fine," noted his dad and coach, Philip Giammarioli.

He said it has been a huge honour to watch his son ascend to the national men's team.

"He's going to be as successful as he chooses to be. And if you strive to be the top in whatever you do, you'll become the top in whatever you do," the father told CTV News Edmonton.

"No matter your ability, you can always play hockey," his son said. "If your eyes don't work, doesn't mean your legs don't work. And say your legs don't work, there's still options for you to play this game and play Canada's game. It's just such a diverse sport in terms of the different accommodations and ways the sport is played."

The blind hockey men's roster also includes two other players from Edmonton, as well as a player from Rosalind southeast of the capital city.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nahreman Issa 

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