High school hockey player can't hear, but has 'it'

Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 11:45pm

Tate Janasek is your typical hard-nosed hockey player and then some.

The 17-year-old forward from Brentwood has devoted 11 years to the ice. His competitiveness is obvious, and he isn’t afraid to get into a scuffle every now and then. He also doesn’t shy away from stepping up to the big play.

“He will go through a brick wall,” said Dennis Hagemann, Janasek’s coach at Ravenwood High. “He is a fairly heady player. He has good instincts and constant hustle.”

But what separates Janasek from the typical tough, talented hockey player is what is hidden to most.

He is deaf.

One wouldn’t know it by talking to him. Janasek, who has had a 100 percent hearing loss since birth, wears a cochlear implant. The device, which is hidden behind his left ear, restores 75 percent hearing and allows him to live a normal routine. Thus, in his life and on the ice, it is business as usual.

“He is just one of the guys,” Hagemann said. “We never looked at him as deaf.”

Only way is up

Janasek hasn’t looked at the disability as a hindrance either. In fact, he has taken advantage of the opportunities available to hearing-impaired hockey players.

For the last eight years, he has been involved with the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association, which is based in Chicago. He travels to the Windy City four times a year for camps and training. Last spring, he represented the United States in the first World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“It is very special,” said Janasek, who began playing hockey when he was 6, shortly after he moved from Fairhope, Ala. “It is a very big experience.”

In addition to that, in August, he will try out in Rochester, N.Y., for the Winter Deaflympics, which will be held in February in Slovakia.

In 2002, Janasek sent out an application to AHIHA not realizing how much was out there for deaf athletes. Now, with more than 200 athletes joining him at camps — boys and girls, ages 6 to 21 — he said there is definitely a need.

“Now it is everywhere,” Janasek said. “We have a whole bunch out there.”

The 5-foot-11, 150-pound Janasek is also a typical teenager.

“He can be an absolute knucklehead,” Hagemann said. “He sometimes takes stupid penalties. But I would much rather have a player that you have to pull the reins back than trying to kick somebody in the butt to get them going.”

Janasek’s aggressiveness and assertiveness contributed to Ravenwood’s big season last winter. The Raptors not only won the state championship but also claimed the Greater Nashville Area Scholastic Hockey crown.

Last month, he again had the chance to stand out when he participated in the Elite Edge Hockey Showcase at A-Game Sportsplex in Cool Springs. The event, run by the Nashville Predators’ Manager of Hockey Operations Brandon Walker, featured more than 200 hockey players from across the country, primarily from the Southeast.

Kent Hulst was one of his coaches during that tournament.

“He is a very heady player out there, very smart,” said the former American Hockey League pro. “He plays with an edge … competing for that puck, especially down in the corner. He is a battler.”

Future will come

Other than focusing on making the Deaflympics, Janasek really isn’t looking into the future.

Sure, he would like to play hockey at the college level, but he hasn’t really thought much about it. He’ll be a junior at Ravenwood in the fall, and his life right now is consumed by high school hockey, club hockey — he also plays for a traveling team based in Atlanta — and lacrosse.

Still, he tries to prioritize.

“School comes first,” he said. “You got to know how to do it, how to manage it very well.”

With all that is on his plate, particularly with hockey, it appears that Janasek is balancing everything just fine.

And that could help him in a couple years if college hockey happens to be in the cards. Hagemann said that is a possibility but acknowledged that certain factors are out of the player’s control.

He noted that Janasek’s chances might improve if he bulks up.

“He has an ‘it’ factor,” Hagemann added. “You can’t quantify it. Some just have these ‘it’ factors. He is one of them.”