Westlake's Words

WESTLAKE’S WORDS
Do you ever wonder what it’s like to be a part of Team Canada? This week is your chance to get a glimpse into the Team Canada dressing room from the eyes of one of this nation’s top sledge hockey players, forward Greg Westlake.

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» SATURDAY - GOLD MEDAL SATURDAY HAS ARRIVED!

Today is finally here! The championship game is set for this afternoon and the team is really excited to perform well. We woke up today and had a video session with our coaches. We went over some things that we think are going to be the keys to victory.

I ended up getting more e-mails than I expected with some questions and comments, so I’m going to take some time and go through them in this blog. Firstly, a lot of people sent in some comments thanking me for doing the blog. So I just want to say THANK YOU for taking the time to send me an e-mail. I was excited about doing this project from the moment I was asked if I would be interested, so it’s nice to know that people actually read and enjoyed it.

A few people asked me what the dressing room is like before a big game. To be completely honest, we try to keep the room very similar to how it usually is. We still have a lot of the same guys who played in the gold medal game in Torino against Norway, and again at the world championship in Boston against Norway. So I like to think that we have conquered some of the nerves and are able to just worry about our performance. We still go through the exact same pre-game routine as we normally would. The only difference being that there is a little more focus in the room and it is a more serious atmosphere.

I was asked about what song we listen to as a team to get pumped up. We listen to such a wide variety of music it is hard to say just one. Especially since each year we try to have a different “theme” song. We have not settled on one this year, but last year we really liked the song ‘Right Now’ by Van Halen. It has a great intro and awesome lyrics as well.

The most common question I received about actually playing hockey was how to shoot. There are several steps in taking a good shot. First off, you need to have balance in your sled. If you feel stable, you are able to put more power behind your shot. From there it is all about having the puck move from heal to toe as you are in the shooting motion. This means starting the puck at where the shaft of your stick meets the blade. As you move your arm through the puck it will slide up to the end of your blade. Then you just need to find a comfortable release point. Your release point is that moment where you switch from building the momentum on the shot to actually letting it go and pointing the tip of your stick in the direction you want to the puck to go. The most common mistake when trying to take a powerful wrist shot in sledge hockey is having the puck on the tip of your blade and attempting to raise the puck from that position. That is usually what makes the puck flutter in the air. The following steps would be my own checklist for a good wrist shot.

1. Be balanced in your sled

2. Start the puck on the heal of your stick blade

3. While in the shooting motion, let the puck slide up the blade to the toe of the stick

4. Release the puck as hard as you can while focusing on pointing at the location you want the puck to go.

Hopefully by practicing these steps you will find your shot gets a little harder and more accurate.

Aside from thanking everyone who sent in any form of question or comments, I want to give a great deal of thanks to everyone who took the time to read even one blog. I had a great time doing this, and really hoped to give an inside look at what it is like to be on our team. Our team truly appreciates all the support we have been given this week playing in Canada and we are going to work our butts off every shift today to win the tournament.

Thanks for reading,

Take care,

Greg Westlake #12

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» FRIDAY - DAY OFF!

Today is an off day, which is amazing because three games in three straight days have left some bumps and bruises on the guys. All we had hockey-wise was a one-hour practice to stay sharp for the final. Although we only had a one-hour practice, we were at the rink for over three hours. After our practice, we held an open ice time for anyone who wanted to try sledge hockey. We had people of all different capabilities and age show up to try it. Our team is great in terms of doing events like this. Everyone on the team loves showing people the sport, making the kids who come out happy and making the most of an ice time like this. Everyone who got into a sled today for the first time seemed to really enjoy it. They passed the puck and learned how to use a sled from national team players, which is a neat experience. After staying on the ice for 30 minutes past when we were supposed to get off, it had to end and we said goodbye to everyone who came out. Overall, events like this are great for us to do as a team. Charlottetown has been so accommodating to us and the people here have supported us great. The time after practice was not only to raise awareness about the game, but a small way for us to “give back” to the host city and show our appreciation.

The second best thing about the off day so far is catching up on things I have fallen behind on, such as school work and TV shows. All I have been up to before writing this blog is catching up on my some reading and finding some of my favourite shows online. For those wondering what my favourite shows are, in the past 24 hours I have watched at lease one episode of Californiacation, Entourage, Prison Break, The Office and The Ultimate Fighter.

The final thing I love about today is going out for a team dinner tonight. We have been eating all of our meals at the hotel and all we eat is pasta for almost every meal. It is going to be a good escape for the guys to go sit at an actual restaurant and order something other than pasta. In an earlier blog I said it is important to mix some fun into practice just to switch things up. Going out for dinner works along the same lines; it’s important to not fall into the trap of just doing the same thing day after day. Otherwise, I think the team gets bored and it shows by everyone’s mood.

I will try to post one more blog before the gold medal game tomorrow afternoon, so if anyone has questions or comments, get them into Adam Crockatt as soon as possible so that I can respond in tomorrow’s blog. Lastly, if anyone reading this is on the fence about coming to tomorrow’s final game, I would recommend coming. The first game of this tournament between us and Norway was VERY intense and I can only imagine that with the tournament on the line, both teams will raise the intensity of the game even more! So put on your red and white and come help us finish the tournament the way we envisioned it.

Thank you

Greg Westlake #12

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» THURSDAY - BATTLE OF THE HANDLEBARS

What do Bryan Trottier, Wendel Clark and Lanny McDonald all have in common? Aside from being great hockey players, they also had unbelievable mustaches. Could Shawn Matheson, Hervé Lord and Greg Westlake soon be in the same category? Typically, the trademark of a hockey warrior is his playoff beard. But since this tournament is not a world championship or a Paralympics, we need to save the lucky beard for those occasions. That being said, we are encouraging as many players on the team to grow anything of their choice with the exception of a beard. Three of us now have handlebar mustaches. Although, I have to admit, I was the last person to jump on the handlebar mustache train, but after going goalless in my first two games and watching Hervé and Sean have two great games, I will do anything to turn my luck around.

Last night’s game against Norway was really fun to be apart of. It was our first time playing them since the gold medal game in Boston, so the tension was high and it showed by the way the two teams played on the ice. One of the first questions people ask about sledge hockey is if it is full contact. Anyone who was able to watch last night’s game would have been quick to realize that it can be a very violent game. It’s no secret that our team tries to play a very “Canadian” style of hockey, we try our best to always play at our highest intensity, we take the body at every opportunity and we play an exciting brand of hockey. I think the fans that came to the rink last night appreciated the effort put forth by both teams and were definitely entertained.

I heard a funny analogy during last night’s game. While talking to a teammate during the second intermission he compared scoring a goal to getting a new girlfriend. He said that when you score a goal, it’s the best feeling in the world and for awhile, all he can think about is that goal. He then said that if you are stuck with that goal for a while, sooner or later, all you want to do is move on to the next goal. I thought it was a funny analogy and would like to give the person who made it some credit, but I will keep him nameless so he can find a date again in the future.

I would love to write more in this blog, but unfortunately, I broke my sled in last night’s game against Norway and am heading to the rink with our equipment manager early so that I can fix it in time for tonight’s game against Japan. Our sled is our main piece of equipment and if it isn’t working for you, it’s tough to do much else on the ice.

Also, if anyone who reads this has any questions or comments for me, feel free to send an e-mail to Adam Crockatt. He is our manager and by clicking on his name at the bottom of this page you can send him an e-mail and he will pass it along to me. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have!

Greg Westlake #12

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» WEDNESDAY - CANADA’S PRE-GAME RITUALS

We got the win last night against the USA, but were quickly reminded from our coaching staff that we are expected to play at a much higher level if we’re planning on competing for another world championship. Jeff Snyder has always been honest with us when it comes to our performance, which makes it easy for us as players to know when to demand more of ourselves and when we can take a moment and feel good about a win.

I’m going to take you through our pre-game routine, since a lot of people probably don’t realize how much preparation goes into playing a game at the international level. For me, it all starts with looking good. Suits and ties are mandatory for all games, so after I put on my chocolate brown suit with black pinstripes we gather as a team on the bus and head to the rink. We get to the rink about an hour and a half before the game, yet we’re not the first ones on the team there. Tony Carbonette (athletic therapist) and Roch Dorion (equipment manager) arrive long before the team does and do an incredible job on setting up the dressing room exactly how we like it. Roch then sharpens skate blades, makes sticks and completes other various tasks for the players. As this is going on, Tony makes sure that every single player feels as good as they physically can so we can perform at our best. The great support staff we have is one of the many things that have taken our team to the next level in the past few years. Most guys on the team go through our warm-up routine in the dressing room which is:
• Five minutes on the hand cycle
• Set up push-ups on a bosu-ball
• Replicated sledge hockey strides with workout elastic bands.
• Stretching

While all of this is going on, guys are having a small snack, hydrating with water, Gatorade® and various protein drinks. I fortunately get to control the music during most times in the dressing room and have built a collection of songs that different guys on the team have asked me for. That being said, it’s impossible to make everybody happy – especially with the large age gap on our team, so I definitely get some bad looks from certain guys when I play songs I know they don’t like.

After the warm-up, we wait for Jeff to come in and give us our pre-game talk, then we have an on-ice warm-up, go back to the dressing room, listen to a few songs that we really like as a team, then it’s game time. I should also mention that my favourite moment before every game is listening to the anthems. I use listening to the anthems as a time for mental preperation; I visualize myself doing good things on the ice and try to gain some confidence from this.

Last season our team was fortunate enough to be part of a documentary called ‘Sledhead’. It was a fun experience having cameras follow us for a year and record our every move. Last season was full of dramatic moments and intense competition, so I feel as though we did our job as a team to make the best movie possible. DVDs are being sold online at www.sledheadmovie.com. Check it out!

Lastly, anyone watching the game on the webcast or live might have noticed that the guys have placed a piece of tape with No. 29 on their sleds or helmets. We are a tight team, more like family really, and that #29 is us telling our teammate Graeme Murray that we are thinking about him and wish he could be at the this tournament with us.

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» TUESDAY - WORDS TO LIVE BY

Today’s blog is about motivation. It’s the afternoon before the first game of the year and the nerves are starting to creep into my system. I’m wondering if I did the right things in the off season, if I have practised hard enough since I have been in PEI and whether the goals I have set for myself this season are just right. Every season there is a whole new set of problems that will be laid out for us, and it is up to us as a team to figure out how to solve them, and get the end result we want – which is to win!

I want to take a moment and talk about two rookies on our team. Matt Cook and James Gemmell will be putting on the Team Canada jersey in a game situation for the first time this week. I can still remember my first game like it was yesterday, and can’t help but be a little jealous that they are joining the team now. Sledge hockey still has ways to go in terms of recognition and how popular it is, but it has indeed improved in the past few years. This is evident by comparing my first game to theirs. My first game was played in front of a small crowd in a three-game exhibition against the U.S.A. The crowd consisted of mostly families and friends of the players on the team and the games didn’t have a great deal of meaning, as they were only exhibitions. Matt Cook and James Gemmell will have the privilege of playing their first-ever game at a very professionally run tournament, with true fans in the seats and amazing coverage of the event. That being said, I loved every second of my first game. I had the honour of being put on a line with Brad Bowden and Billy Bridges – two of the most skilled players in the game. They made it really easy to for me to adjust to the high tempo of the game, and they probably made me look better than I was. As a team we have to do the same thing for Cook and Gemmell tonight. We have to make sure they are mentally ready, physically ready and then let them play their game and show why they made the team.

Getting back to motivation, there are times where motivation is hard to find and some games are tough to “get up” for. I am sure every guy has different techniques he uses to help them mentally prepare for every game. Personally, I use the great support I have all around me. We have leadership on the team that I feel comfortable talking to, I have a great family and different family members call me to wish me luck and check up on how I’m doing, and I even receive e-mails from my extended family making sure I’m taking my hockey seriously. For instance, my uncle Mike is a big hockey fan and a great educator of the game. I wanted to share a tidbit from an e-mail he sent me last night, as it really motivated me to have a good tournament and put forth my best effort:

“Well Greg one might say this is a new beginning, some new players, new challenges, new experiences, and new memories, memories that for all involved will last a lifetime. We just want to wish you nothing but the best, take each competition as it comes, each shift as it comes, and strive to be the best you can be. Remember, there is no comfort zone, never be satisfied with the last championship, have a hunger for more.”

This is a great quote that works on many different levels. It can be used not only in hockey, but in everyday life as well. I’m about to get into bed and have an afternoon nap so that I can have as much energy as possible for tonight’s game. I think our team will come out with an effort that shows we are indeed, hungry for more.

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» MONDAY - THE YOUNG AND THE YOUNG AT HEART

Today was a really fun day. A local kindergarten class came to the rink to watch our morning practice, and then stayed afterwards to meet with us. We meet with a lot of children throughout the year, but this occasion was special. The kindergarten class had been inspired to do a project about our team because one child made a person out of Lego® missing a leg, and proceeded to tell his teacher that the Lego® man could play sledge hockey. The teacher then had her class learn about the players on the team, the rules of the game and about the Paralympics.

The kids designed sleds out of cardboard, rinks out of Lego® and made posters that followed their progress. It was very special what these kids did at such a young age. Usually kids in their age group can be found pointing, staring and asking questions when they see a person with an artificial leg or in a wheelchair, but not these youngsters! They have taken the time to learn and respect the game of sledge hockey and the people that play it as well. It’s funny that there are grown adults who are ignorant to disabled sports and the Paralympics, yet these kids at such a young age were able to look past the disabilities and see the sport for what it really is. I don’t think I am just speaking for myself when I say that I was very impressed with the whole experience.

A lot of people ask me what we do on the road for fun. There can be a lot of downtime between practices, games and team functions. In my previous blog I gave an example of a game we like to play at the end of practice. In this blog, I will give you an idea of what it is like around the hotel. Lots of guys on the team have families, wives or girlfriends back home and can be found sneaking off every chance they get to send a quick text message or make a phone call. As much as all the guys love playing hockey, family comes first, and it’s obvious at times that certain guys are missing their loved ones. There are several younger players on the team that are in school and have to take some time at the hotel to do some reading, or send in assignments online. Being a university student myself, I have to say that it can be very stressful. Most professors are great and give you extensions and are willing to help you get caught up, but I have definitely encountered a few that are very strict and make training camps and tournaments very stressful.

My roommate on the road is goaltender Paul Rosen. Paul was one of my first friends on the team and we have a good dynamic on the road. We both like the room really cold, I get to control the TV remote and we both have a similar pre-game routine. That being said, there is a bit of a difference between the older guys on the team and the younger guys. I’m writing this at 1:50 p.m. and Paul is asleep. Paul has said himself he is “not a practice goalie” and we have only had one practice so far today, so there is no way he could be tired right now. Therefore I am attributing his daily afternoon nap to age (Paul is 48 years old). As for me, I need to get to Brad Bowden’s room as soon as possible. Brad brought his Xbox 360 to PEI, so most of the younger guys have some intense NHL 09 tournaments.

I would keep writing, but it is crucial to be at this Xbox tournament on time so I can pick the best team in the NHL to play with (Toronto Maple Leafs)! Besides, I like to think of hockey video games as studying.

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» SUNDAY - GREAT SHOT! BUT I DIDN’T WIN THE MONEY

Firstly, I am surprised that I was given the opportunity to blog, and excited that it will be on the Hockey Canada website. My goal with these blogs is to give everyone a bit of an idea of what it is like to be on the road with our team as we play our first tournament of a brand new season in our own country.

The treatment so far has been incredible! As far as I know, Charlottetown bid on the right to host this tournament and I am thrilled that they were awarded it. There is a lot of work to be done in order to host a sledge hockey event. The benches have to be modified and made sledge accessible. The host committee has laid down plastic that leads from the dressings rooms to the ice surface so that we can all skate on as a team, as opposed to having to get into our sleds by the door on the ice. These modifications help us look much more professional and make for a smoother hockey game. There are a lot of volunteers here to help with any needs that we may have and it looks as though there has been a lot of work done in promoting the event.

As a team, we have not played a tournament in Canada since the World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Kelowna, BC in March of 2007. So obviously we’re excited to get on the ice in front of a pro-Canada crowd and giving the fans a good show.

Today our new assistant coach Mike Mondin introduced me to a good game to play at the end of practice, so I am going to share it with you.

1. Gather a bunch of pucks at the centre-ice dot.
2. Get a group of guys that are willing to throw in a couple dollars
3. Each guy gets one shot at shooting a puck from the centre ice dot through the hole in the glass where the scorekeeper sits.
4. Make the shot, win the money.

Mixing some fun into your practices is important so that all the guys stay in a good mood and keep high morale. Fortunately, we have great team chemistry and have been able to find a good balance the past few seasons of hard work and having fun on the ice.

It’s also interesting to note that, today, I made the shot from centre-ice dot. I did however, NOT win any money. We all took two attempts at it and all missed. Then I took an extra shot and made it literally two seconds after our head coach, Jeff Snyder, declared the game over. Since I didn’t win any money, I thought it was necessary to blog about it.

Anyways, that’s all for now, I am looking forward telling some good stories and getting into more detail as the tournament progresses.