Hosting the Men’s National Sledge Hockey Team on campus this week is enough of a treat, but what an honour for our varsity players to take them on in a friendly game Wednesday night.
The team arrived on campus Sunday for their training camp leading into the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Our Varsity Saints tried out the sleds yesterday on the ice at La Brier Family Arena, struggling with the newness of using a sled, notwithstanding playing against gold-medal calibre athletes.
“Trying the sport showed how impressive the players on the Olympic team are. It wasn't an easy skill to do on the ice, so seeing those guys flying around and shooting the puck as hard as they can shoot it is pretty incredible. I couldn't believe how quickly they could stop and turn,” said grade 12 student Ian Maclean.
“It was crazy to be on the ice with them at the same time because it made us feel like Novice hockey players compared to NHL players,” Ian added.
Austin Brett was another SAC player to try out sledge hockey. “It was harder than what I thought. The hardest part was moving and handling the puck at the same time. Turning was also hard.”
The boys’ opinions about the difficulty of the sport was reinforced by Team Canada player Greg Westlake, who spoke at Thursday morning’s assembly.
“I hated it when I first played it,” said Greg, who came from an athletic background playing “stand-up” hockey for many years. The transition for him was tough.
But he persevered, and improved every week.
“The turning point was meeting the Canadian National Team,” he said, inspired by their grit and determination.
Greg, who had both feet amputated when he was a young child, met athletes who were cancer survivors and others who’d been injured while serving in the military. He was inspired to work harder, and started practicing the sport on a daily basis.
He made his debut with the Canadian National Team in 2003 and is now has the role of captain.
Team member Billy Bridges also spoke to the students Thursday morning about his journey to Paralympic gold. He was born with spina bifida – a condition when the bones of the spine don't form properly around part of a baby's spinal cord. But he said he was just a normal kid who love sports, but happened to stand with crutches or a walker
“I didn’t feel like I was disabled,” he said. “I wanted to play in the NHL!”
He tried out wheelchair basketball, which opened the door for him to other adaptive sports. He discovered sledge hockey, playing with his dad and brother, both able-bodied but with a passion for sledge hockey. The drive exhibited by his father got him into the game, and he joined the national team when he was 14.
“Pushing through the adversity made me who I am today,” said Billy, who is the all-time leading scorer in sledge hockey in the world.
“It was incredible to hear the background stories of some of the players and how motivated they are even though they live with a disability,” Austin remarked. “It’s inspirational to hear about their journey and how they have overcome adversity.”
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.Story by Julie Caspersen