By PATRICK SLACK
Ben Newman has spent his entire life dealing with having vision in only one eye.
Compared to that, helping the Little Falls boys hockey team get back on track has been like a walk in the park.
Or a skate in the rink.
Newman was 8 months old when it happened.
Just learning how to walk, he stumbled and tripped in his living room.
A routine occurrence for any child, but not on this day.
Newman fell straight into a plant holder, where an undetected piece of brass pierced his right eye.
Surgery was performed shortly thereafter, but he has been blind in the eye ever since.
Newman began skating when he was only three, learning from his dad, who also played high school hockey.
The skates were barely laced before he was hooked.
He steadily progressed through the youth ranks before earning a spot on the Little Falls varsity team as a freshman.
While vision is important in many sports, it doesn’t get much more vital than in hockey.
Players must be able to find the puck, know where to deliver passes to teammates, avoid hits and checks from opposing players, stay on-side and ultimately bury shots in the net.
“I’ve just adapted to it,” Newman said. “People ask me all the time how I handle it. I don’t really know because I’ve been playing with it my whole life.”
Despite playing with the use of only one eye, Newman has always played center, the position in the middle of the action.
Now a junior, Newman is not just playing for the Flyers.
He is the leading goal-scorer for a team that has won seven in a row as it positions itself as a dangerous postseason squad.
The Flyers opened the season with a 3-6 record, losing all six of their games by one goal.
Looking for a jolt, Little Falls opted to form a top line of senior Joey Hanowski and junior Luke Majerle being centered by Newman.
All of a sudden, the goals came in bunches, as the Flyers have rattled off seven wins in a row, outscoring opponents 38-7.
Newman has been, of course, at the center of it all, scoring two goals Tuesday at St. Cloud Tech to push his season total to 16.
He has also tallied 15 assists, emerging as a true dual-threat.
Through Tuesday’s game, Hanowski had 32 points on 15 goals and 17 assists and Majerle had nine goals and 19 assists.
The strong stretch of play by the trio has been aided by the familiarity that has come from playing together for several years, as well as a lack of selfish play, Newman said.
“When you’ve got the shot, you take it,” Newman said. “When you have the opportunity to pass, you pass. A lot of my goals are just being in the right place at the right time.”
“A lot of it is also just knowing where your teammates are,” he said. “Just keeping your head on a swivel.”
The Flyers are closing in on the final month of the regular season.
Despite the slow start, Newman has helped give Little Falls the look of a bona fide playoff contender.
While brighter stars may have passed through the program, not many teams have had a leader nearly as prepared to help it shake off adversity.
“We’re the best when we work as a team,” Newman said. “When we start to focus on ‘me, me, me,’ it’s not good. We’re a very unselfish team, not a team of individuals.”