Former Winnipeg Jet to receive community award at Convention Centre

Jim Kyte with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1980s. Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame

Former Winnipeg Jet Jim Kyte will be honoured at a gala event Friday night by Direct Action In Support of Community Homes (DASCH), a non-profit offering residential, vocational and leisure programs to people with intellectual disabilities.

Kyte, who was the Jets’ first-round draft pick in 1982 and played 13 seasons in the NHL, has a son with autism and is actively involved in advocacy for autistic people.

He’s also the only legally deaf person to play in the NHL to date – something that didn’t stop him from developing a reputation as a physical force for the ’80s Jets.

The Ottawa native will be receiving DASCH’s Annual Recognition Award Friday at the RBC Convention Centre as part of the organization’s Possibilities Gala.

“Personally, I’m known to be the only deaf player in the history of the NHL. I’m orally deaf – I have a profound hearing loss and I lip read,” he said.

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“I’m in the disability community and I hate the word (disability), so I’m glad it’s called the Possibilities Gala tonight. Everybody has a different level of ability. Everybody is special in their own way.

“When you have a child with an intellectual disability, an adaptive disability, you wonder, ‘what’s going to happen when I’m gone, who’s going to look out for them?’ So organizations like DASCH are incredible support. They make people like me sleep better at night knowing there’s an organization like that in my community.”

READ MORE: ‘It has made me a better person’: What it’s like to raise a child with autism

Although his career was cut short in 1997 due to a brain injury he sustained in a car accident, Kyte played just shy of 600 NHL games with the Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, and San Jose Sharks – as well as minor pro stints in the International and American leagues for teams in Muskegon, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, New Haven, and Kansas City.

Kyte was involved in 148 fights throughout his pro hockey career, but he’s not sure the term “enforcer” necessarily fits. In his era, he said, fighting was just a part of the game.

“I would say that I was a tough physical defenceman. If you stood in front of my net, it was a high-rent zone. You had to pay the price,” he said.

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“Usually the other team’s enforcer would come after me if I was giving their better players a hard time. Definitely I stood up for myself. I’m a big guy, I’m 6’5”, and when you’re that size, there’s an expectation you defend your teammates and I was happy to do it.

“A successful hockey team is like a wolf pack, you stand up for each other.”

Although Kyte’s tenure with the Jets ended in the 1988-89 season, he got an opportunity to wear the old colours one last time at the alumni game for the 2016 Heritage Classic in Winnipeg.

“The Heritage Classic was a fantastic experience,” said Kyte. “We finally beat the Edmonton Oilers! During my era, they seemed to win the big games all the time, so at least we have bragging rights for the rest of my life.”

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