Deaf Ice Hockey Championships special for Gintoli family
They’ve never been linemates on national teams, since they both play center, but at least Shelton’s Peter and Garrett Gintoli have been teammates in some pretty big international tournaments for hearing-impaired hockey players. They were bronze medalists at the 2015 Deaflympics in Russia.
The upcoming World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships will be special for the brothers because of who else will be there: For the first time, there will be a women’s competition, two exhibition games between the national teams of the United States and Canada.
That means their sister will wear the national team’s sweater as well in Amherst, N.Y.
“Being able to see our sister, Michele, who has been one of our biggest fans all our lives, wear that jersey should be an awesome moment,” said Garrett, 20.
Of the 40 men and women representing the United States in Amherst, three will be Gintolis. Michele, 29, is a co-captain of the women’s team.
Michele Gintoli, who lives in Danbury and coaches in the Ridgefield Amateur Hockey Association, said she has been working with others to get women’s competition going since 2011. They’re hoping to have four countries ready to compete in the 2019 Deaflympics.
“I feel that many girls didn’t show up to camp because there was nothing to work towards like the boys/men have,” she said.
“My brothers have talked about being on this team since they were little. The girls who would be there ‘just to participate’ would rather go to other camps.”
The turnout at tryouts, she said, was overwhelming.
“These girls finally have something to show for,” Michele Gintoli said, “and are all really excited to represent their country.”
The women’s teams will meet on April 22 and 23 at the NorthTown Center in Amherst, just outside Buffalo. Men’s competition begins at the same time and runs through April 29.
The American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association (AHIHA) puts the team together. “To qualify for the games, athletes must have a hearing loss of at least 55 dB in their ‘better ear,’” the AHIHA’s press release said. “Hearing aids, cochlear implants and the like are not allowed to be used in competition, to place all athletes on the same level.”
The family’s name is all over the AHIHA website, as players, coaches, fundraisers. They’ve taken part in AHIHA hockey camps in different capacities.
“The organization has done so much for our family,” said Peter, 25, who recently finished his rookie year with Roanoke (Va.) of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
“We were all brought up to work hard no matter what and having this camp in our lives adds more incentive to work hard so younger kids can learn the right habits and share some of the goals we all have,” he added. “Whether that is coming to camp every summer and trying to be on a higher team or trying out and competing for Team USA.”
The national team will be missing one of its biggest champions, U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Jeff Sauer. The longtime Wisconsin coach died Feb. 2 at age 73. Sauer was active in deaf hockey and sled hockey.
“He was very proud of our kids and worked hard to make sure other coaches gave our kids and so many others a chance,” said Karen Gintoli, the players’ mother. “He was thrilled anytime one of our AHIHA players went on to play college hockey. He gave Michele opportunities to coach at camp and the Disabled Festivals.”
Sauer is actually one reason Garrett will attend Milwaukee School of Engineering in the fall. Garrett said Sauer had recommended him to MSOE coach Mark Ostapina, and Ostapina called the day Sauer died.
“Coach Ostapina and I shared a few stories and memories of Sauer with each other for a while on the phone,” Garrett said, “and once the call was over, I knew I wanted to go to MSOE. I went out to visit and loved the campus, especially the rink.”
Before college, though, are the world championships. Peter said the men are aiming for gold, with depth and lots of experienced players. And it will hopefully be a milestone for the women as well.
“It’s been a lot of slow going progress and rejection but to finally have this happening is truly a blessing,” Michele said. “Our hard work has finally paid off.”
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