No doubt, the excitement is building.
Canada’s National Sledge Team arrived in Vancouver on Sunday night and players and staff got their first opportunity to see the new UBC Thunderbird Arena – the facility that will be home to sledge hockey for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games next March.
For this week, though, it’s home to the 2009 Hockey Canada Cup, a four-team event that sees Canada facing off against Germany, Japan and the United States.
Jeff Snyder, Canada’s head coach, says he wants his players to limit their thoughts of 2010. But, he adds, that could be easier said than done.
“We’re trying hard as coaches to get our team to focus on the world championship (in the Czech Republic in May) this year,” Snyder says. “But (2010) has got to be on their minds. For me coming in here, seeing the dressing room and the rink and everything, it gets you excited. We’re really looking forward to having the Paralympics in front of our home crowd in Canada.”
The Hockey Canada Cup opens on Tuesday, with a pair of games on the schedule, including Canada versus Germany. The event is being used as a test tournament for the 2010 Paralympics.
Make no mistake about it, though. This week is an important one for Canada’s National Sledge Team. Snyder and his assistant coaches, Shawn Frydberg and Mike Mondin, will monitor the progress of their 17 athletes throughout the week, as only 15 will make the final roster for the world championship.
Also, Canada enters the Hockey Canada Cup as the defending world and Paralympic champions. This season, Canada has won the 2008 World Sledge Hockey Challenge and, most recently, the Japan 4 Nations tournament.
Canada would like to keep the winning streak going, but Snyder says his team has some work to do to ensure positive results.
“We’re looking forward to us getting together as a team,” he says. “We played well in Japan (at the 4 Nations tournament in January) but I didn’t think we played that well. So we’re trying to improve on our performance there.”
The other game on Tuesday has the tournament’s second seed, the United States, facing Japan.
The gold medal game can be seen live on TSN2 on Sunday, March 1, at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET.