Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Jim Kyte

Jim Kyte was one tough hombre on the ice. Though he masqueraded as one the NHL's toughest guys of the 1980s and 1990s, often he took the worst of the fights, particularly later in his career. But one thing was for sure, Kyte was sure to answer the call.

Many will always remember Kyte as the giant defenseman with the Winnipeg Jets. Standing 6'5" and 215lbs, few were bigger than Kyte. And he knew his punch ticket to the NHL was to use his size to full advantage - clearing the crease, banging bodies and, yes, fighting when the game merited it.

Kyte may have lost more than just his fair share of fights as his career progressed. He may even have become a reluctant fight, cast into a role that he worked so hard to over come. He wanted to be more than a goon on defense. He wanted to ascend to the status of a top 4 defenseman, much like Marty McSorley did in L.A. or Dave Manson in Chicago.

For such a giant, Kyte was a pretty good skater. It was something that he had worked on zealously, improving both his speed, sprints and mobility. In the high flying Smythe division of the 1980s, this Kyte wouldn't exactly fly, but he rarely looked out of place.

Kyte's problem was he could do little more than keep up. He didn't have a lot of puck skills or creativity. He wasn't great at reading plays, and therefore would take a second too long to make first passes out of the defensive zone. That would often get him into trouble, causing his coaches to harp on him to just chip it off the glass and into the neutral zone.

Though he had enough upper body strength to get off, if given enough time, a good slap shot from the point, Kyte could do little with the rubber biscuit. In 598 NHL games, he only scored 66 points.

Jim Kyte accomplished all this as the only player in National Hockey League history to be legally deaf.

Kyte suffered from a hereditary hearing deficiency that broke down his audio nerve from about the age of 3. Kyte could hear, courtesy of special hearing aids. He always had to wear a customized helmet with special flaps covering his ears to protect the hearing aids during games.

Naturally, Kyte was and remains inspiration to deaf and hearing-impaired hockey players. He was always very active in charitable causes involving hearing impairment, but many other charities as well. He learned sign language even though it wasn't necessary for him to communicate. During the off season he worked with hearing-impaired children at a special camp run by Stan Mikita in Chicago. He later would run his own summer hockey school for deaf and hearing-impaired kids in Toronto before opening the Jim Kyte Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired in Ottawa. He continues to run that hockey school today.

For all his work in charity and for overcoming his own impairments, Jim Kyte was twice nominated for the Masterton Trophy for dedication to the game of hockey. He should have won it.


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