Ken Babey knows how things work – or don’t work – at major sporting events.
Some people may believe events like the Olympics and Paralympics go off
without a hitch but Babey – head coach of Canada’s National Sledge Team –
Babey and Team Canada are in Gangneung, South Korea, for the 2017 IPC World
Para Hockey Championship, and the event is serving as both a world
championship and test event for the 2018 Paralympic sledge hockey event;
both events take place at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. (The hockey venue is
located 25 minutes east of the main Olympic stadium.)
“What’s really important to get them ready [for 2018 Paralympics] is that
anything can happen on any given day. You can have the best plans but you
have to remain flexible, you have to remain steadfast in your goal which is
a gold medal,” says Babey, who has been Canada’s head coach since January
“But, you know, a bus might not show up, practice time might be changed,
you might not have a dressing room when you get there. All of these things
happen at these major events. You have to be ready for it. The puck can go
a certain direction in a game, you might get a bad call. Anything can
happen. We’re just trying to help our guys go through that, talk about the
South Korea played host to sledge worlds in 2013 – at which Canada won gold
– so the team’s players and staff certainly aren’t entering unknown
territory. Everyone except for five of Canada’s players, who are competing
in their first world championship.
For those players especially, says Babey, the worlds are about getting
acclimated to their surroundings.
“This trip to Korea is part of preparing for 2018 in the sense that we want
to get used to the facilities, the travel, the jet lag, food, everything
about the environment,” he says. “But at the same time, we want to win the
world championship. We brought a team that we think gives us the best
chance to win now … and also for 2018, we need to be able to try some of
the new young players we have on the team.”
Canada’s 17-player roster is a good mix of the young and experienced.
Captain Greg Westlake is one of the players that coach Babey is leaning on
to help the new kids on the block. Westlake has worn the ‘C’ for Team
Canada since the start of the 2011-12 season and is no stranger to big
He has competed in three Paralympic Winter Games, helping Canada win gold
in 2006, followed by a fourth-place finish in 2010 in Vancouver and a
bronze medal at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. Westlake also has two
world championship gold medals to his name from the 2008 and 2013 worlds.
Babey says Westlake’s leadership style is focused on hard work, and the
30-year-old forward doesn’t disagree.
“I try to be a positive guy. I know that I’m not going to quit on a game,
quit on a shift, quit on a play. I love to work and I think that’s
contagious,” says Westlake. “We have a lot of guys who love to work.
“What’s my style? It’s just to have energy and go to work every day. To me,
it’s not a complicated job that we have over here. We have all of the food,
we have all the amenities, we have everything we need. It’s literally just
show up and work hard. To me, there’s no excuse to not do that.”
He also believes this group is poised to make some noise, both at this
year’s worlds and next year at the Paralympics.
“I have always used world championships as checkpoints on the way to the
ultimate goal of the Paralympics,” says Westlake. “If you’re coming fourth
or fifth at world championships, you probably shouldn’t like your prospects
at the Paralympics. We’re right on the cusp. We have been in a lot of gold
medal games. I would like to see us get over a hump.
“The team that’s together right now, we have done so many positive things.
If you look at our fitness testing, our scores, the intangibles, we have
gotten so much better every year.”
If the Paralympics are the ‘big one,’ Team Canada has one more year to get
even better. And gold in Gangneung – hopefully the first of two for Babey,
Westlake and the rest of the Canadian contingent – is a pretty good place