The Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI) is hosting its second annual training camp Wednesday through Sunday.
Team USA is back in the Mohawk Valley, going through rigorous training as they prepare for a preseason game against Gary Heenan's All-Stars this Saturday at the Whitestown Community Center from 7-9.
"Oh it's a great feeling," said Victoria McDermott. "I mean it's definitely intense because we know this year is going to be more competitive, challenging but it feels great. It feels like we're back where we belong and we're kind of like we're home here."
You may be thinking of all the places in the country they could train, why Utica? For all involved it was a no-brainer.
"It's a special environment because of CABVI, the resources and knowledge they have around visual losses is unbelievable," said Pioneers head coach Gary Heenan. "You add that coupled with the hockey center that we are, it's just a perfect fit."
"Our belief in USA hockey is that hockey is for everyone, we don't look at disabilities," said Team USA head coach. "That was the turning point. That moment, with the community outreach, the way they responded to us. For us, it's just a hockey game and a rink. I'm training but they made it more like we understand, we're here for you and we want you to come back and be part of it. That connection at that moment made my mind up: this is where I wanna be."
There are some familiar faces continuing to help this sport grow.
"Communication is key," said player Kevin Brown. "We learned that although we are visually challenged, for any sport and anything in life, communication is important. Building that connection and understanding what works on and off the ice is gonna make us more effective when we play together.
And some new ones eager to embark on this journey.
"It's been incredible," said Geoff Martin. "The community here in Utica has just set us up so well. There's been so much support coming through for us. It's just been an unbelievable experience. So organized and I can't say enough good things about it. It's been awesome. To put on this jersey for the first time was unbelievable."