Hockey fans in Charlottetown know the name Billy Bridges.
And why shouldn’t they?
Bridges grew up in Guelph, ON but was born in Summerside, PEI. And he has quickly become one of the Island’s most high-profile athletes.
He started playing sledge hockey at the age of 12. And he’s been instrumental in Canada’s offence since he joined the team in 1999. Over the past two seasons, Bridges has posted 37 points – including 18 goals – in 19 games.
On top of that, Bridges has had success on the basketball court. He represented his country at two World Junior Wheelchair Basketball Championships (20), winning gold in 2001.
Despite all of that, many fans in PEI haven’t seen Bridges in action live. That is, until this week.
Bridges and Canada’s National Sledge Team will attempt to win gold at the 2008 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Charlottetown, which opens on Tuesday.
“Obviously I’m very excited to come to play in front of my home province,” Bridges says. “I'm definitely hoping some family can make it down from up west.”
Canada will be joined by Japan, Norway and the United States at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge. For those who follow the sport of sledge hockey, those teams are the who's who of the game. They are the top four-rated sledge teams on the planet, based on results at the 2008 IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship, which Canada won in April 2008 in Massachusetts.
Bridges says his game has come a long way since joining the team in 2007. Back then, he says, he spent a little too much time focusing on the offensive side of the game. Since then, however, he’s learned the importance of helping out in his team’s zone.
“I didn't play much defence,” he says of his early days with the team. “I would cheat to get a breakaway wherever possible. Today, I pride myself on a more well-rounded game, and I take pride in my defence.”
This event is one of the events that Hockey Canada will use to determine Canada’s team for the much-hyped 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Canada will go into that tournament as the defending Paralympic gold medalists.
Despite that tournament being in the minds of Canada’s players, Bridges says he and others have to focus on the ‘now’.
“There is definitely a lot of pressure on for 2010, but we can't think of that too much,” he says. “Right now I'm focusing on training and tournaments and games in the near future, along with ways that I can make myself better.”
Bridges knows that he and his teammates will have targets on their backs throughout the week in Charlottetown.
“Since Canada is the reigning champion, the world will be out for our necks,” says Bridges. “We will need all the support we can get.”