SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — As a blind hockey player, Ryan Schutte, 20, faces more challenges than most, but he finds joy at the Cube Ice Rink in Santa Clarita. His mom, Chandra Neal, said he can hardly contain his excitement each week.

What You Need To Know

  • Blind hockey player Ryan Schutte, born without eyes, is part of the Special Needs Athletes and Peers program 

  • SNAP provides activites and leagues for children and adults with special needs

  • Schutte's team practices every Wednesday night

  • Chandra Neal said she's been proud to watch her son's confidence and social skills soar, especially since he was once labeled unhireable in the workplace

“When it’s 4:30, he is out the door ready to go, and he doesn’t care if I’m ready. He’s like down the stairs with his hockey bag,” Neal said.

Schutte was born without eyes, and Neal said there aren’t many opportunities for him to participate in sports or stay active.

“A lot of blind kids don’t move because, you know, they can’t see, so just getting out there and having him be active and athletic is important to me,” she said.

Schutte is part of SNAP, which stands for Special Needs Athletes and Peers. The non-profit sports program provides activities and leagues for children and adults with special needs.

“Everyone, anyone can do it. Yeah,” Schutte said.

He plays for the SNAP Flyers, a team that includes players with a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, but all with a love of hockey.

“I enjoy talking with them,” Schutte explained.

“He memorizes people’s voices, and he knows the players and the players [are] like, ‘Hi Ryan’ and so just having that team camaraderie,” Neal said.

The team practices every Wednesday night. 

Coaches and staff use sound to help direct Schutte. He also relies on a larger puck, which sometimes rattles or beeps.

“When I hear it beeping, I know I’m coming towards it,” Schutte said.

Coach Kim Soash often works with him one-on-one. She’s been with the program for 10 years and has a son on the team. She says it fills her heart to watch these athletes advance. 

“When the kings are trying to promote that hockey is for everyone, we’re trying to prove it,” Soash laughed.

She’s been proud to watch her son’s confidence and social skills soar, especially since he was once labeled un-hireable in the workplace.

“Whether he had the ability before and didn’t believe he did or grew into having the ability, but he’s five years working at Vons now, and they consider him a valued employee,” Soash said.

Neal is just thrilled to have a safe and inclusive environment for her son to thrive in.

“There’s no way I ever thought he’d be playing hockey of all sports, you know?” she said.

This is fitting, given the program’s motto, ‘Shattering the Notion of Limitations.’

And for Schutte, that’s the ultimate goal.