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Hamline Senior to Lead First U.S. Deaf Women's Hockey Team

Hamline senior Jessica Goldberg, who completed her college hockey career with the Pipers this past season, is the captain for the U.S. women's team at the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships this coming weekend. Photo: Courtesy of Hamline Sports Information
Hamline senior Jessica Goldberg, who completed her college hockey career with the Pipers this past season, is the captain for the U.S. women's team at the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships this coming weekend.

April 17, 2017 08:49 PM

Jessica Goldberg has never let hearing loss stand in the way of something she wanted to accomplish.

That includes hockey. The Hamline senior just completed a four-year college career, including a senior season where she finished with a goal and five assists in 25 games.

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"Challenges are always going to be there," said Goldberg, who deals with 50 percent hearing loss in each ear.

"You can find them in whatever you do. But you can't let that stop you if it's something you really want to pursue."

And one of Goldberg's long-held dreams has been representing her country on the ice -- a goal that will finally become reality this month.

The World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships have been played every four years since 2009. But this year, for the first time, women's teams will also be competing.

The U.S. women take on the Canadian national team in a pair of games on April 22 and 23 in Amherst, N.Y. Goldberg is the captain of the American squad, whose members range in ages from 13 to 29.

"It's been something I've hoped for since I was 5 and started at the (American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association's) camps," said Goldberg, who played high school hockey at Henry Sibley.

"I always looked up to the guys on the Deaflympic and national teams. And I always wanted the chance to go myself. Now it's finally happening."

The team is coached by Jackie MacMillan, the head women's coach at St. Scholastica in Duluth. Players were selected at a tryout camp in Minneapolis last month. Goldberg is one of seven Minnesotans on the roster, and one of the team's most experienced members.

"I'm the only college player on the roster, but it's only the first year," she said. "It's just amazing that we now have this team and we're getting this opportunity."

The tryouts marked the first time MacMillan has worked with hearing-impaired athletes. As a college player at Wisconsin, she got to know Jeff Sauer, the former Badger's men's hockey coach from 1982-2002. He served as president of the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association and led the U.S. men's team at the last four Winter Deaflympics -- where men's hockey has been on the slate of events since 1991.

Sauer, who died of pancreatic cancer in February, approached MacMillan about taking the job.

She said the adjustment has not been difficult.

"The only difference has really been that at St. Scholastica, I use a whistle in practice to stop drills," said MacMillan, who does not know sign language herself, but will have an interpreter with her in practice and on the bench during games.

"Obviously, I can't do that with a deaf team. So I have to be very visual. I'll get out in the middle of the ice and signal when I want everyone to stop. And they stop pretty quickly.

"They're very visual learners. In some ways, they pick things up more quickly than players do at the college level."

That's certainly been the case with Goldberg.

"I've always just read coaches' lips," she said. "At the beginning of the season, whatever team I've been on, I make it a point to tell the coach and my teammates that I'm hard of hearing and that I have to physically face them to read their lips and know for sure what they're saying.

"I actually never wore a hearing aid until I was 6. I managed to pass every hearing test I took by learning how to read their lips. It wasn't until people figured that out and began covering their mouths that I started to completely fail them.

"So even when I was little, I learned how to pick things up just by lip reading."

Goldberg is majoring in economics with a business minor and will graduate from Hamline in May.

So the world championships likely represent her final major competition as a hockey player. And she's fired up to be part of something she hopes will inspire other hearing-impaired female athletes to get involved with hockey as well.

"Hopefully we're building something," she said.

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Frank Rajkowski

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