Gangneung gold … Part 1
Canada returned to the top of the sledge hockey world with a golden performance in South Korea, but it has its sights set on an even bigger victory next year
Chris Jurewicz
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June 19, 2017
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Ken Babey kept on talking about getting over the hump.

That hump was the United States. More specifically, it was seeing Canada’s National Sledge Team defeat the U.S. in a major international competition. The Americans have had Canada’s number in recent years, winning 12 of 13 games dating back to early 2014.

That changed April 20 when Canada earned a 4-1 win in the gold medal game of the 2017 IPC World Para Hockey Championship in South Korea.

“It feels outstanding, in the sense of achieving a big step in the process of winning a gold medal. It felt great,” says Babey, the Canadian head coach. “It was important for our team. We liked the way we played, we played as a team. We liked the fact that this really gives our team some confidence going into the Paralympics year. It’s only nine months away. You’re in the game, so to speak. It gives us some good confidence going into that.”

The gold medal was Canada’s first at the world championship since 2013 and fourth ever. That’s four gold medals in 17 years, which speaks to how tough it is to win on the international sledge hockey stage.

It’s only going to get tougher, with the pinnacle of the sport – the Paralympic Winter Games – less than a year away. The Paralympic tournament will be played at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, the same facility that hosted worlds.

The Canadians were in fine form in Gangneung, allowing just three goals in seven games while finding the back of the net 49 times; they earned dominant victories over Norway (9-0), Italy (7-0), Sweden (17-0) and Germany (9-0), and a close win over Korea (2-0) alongside their lone defeat to the U.S. (2-1) in the preliminary round.

“I really liked the way we played, we executed our game plans, the guys played as a team,” Babey says. “We shared the ice time, we shared the work load, and that’s what a team does. We’re trying to build a team that can play three lines against anybody in the world and still play at a high pace so that we’re not focused on five or six players, we’re focused on our whole team. Our discipline was good, goaltending was solid when needed and called upon and it was just a good, solid team effort.”

The Team Canada offence, as the scores suggested, seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Five players had at least 10 points, with defenceman Adam Dixon leading the charge with 18 (four goals, 14 assists). Dixon, of course, has been putting up impressive numbers for years and cemented his spot as the best blue-liner in sledge hockey.

And then there was Tyler McGregor. The 23-year-old continued his red-hot 2017, leading the tournament with 12 goals and finishing just behind Dixon with 17 points in seven games.

Including his performance at the 2017 International Para Hockey Tournament in Italy late February and early March, McGregor has 31 points in 12 games since the calendar turned; that accounts for 37.4% of his career scoring in 16% of the games.

He supplied the must-see moment of the gold medal game in Gangneung, scoring twice in 13 seconds in the second period to give the Canadians a commanding 4-0 lead.

“To win that game and win [the world title] for the first time in a long time, it was pretty special,” says McGregor. “It was an important stepping stone. For the past year, year and a half, we have always believed that we would get over the hump. It was just a matter of going out and executing.


“If anything, it made us more hungry. Being able to win a world championship is a feeling that, personally, I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, but the ultimate goal is to win a gold medal at Paralympics. I feel like every guy in our room has that same feeling and that same drive right now. We’re hungry and excited to get back to work and do it again in nine months.”

Babey says the players will get some well-earned rest through the spring before getting back to work in the summer months. Canada’s sledge hockey program is de-centralized, meaning players are scattered throughout Canada and will only come together a few times a year for camps and events.

With the Paralympics approaching (they open March 8, 2018) there is even greater responsibility now that Canada will go in as the reigning world champion.

“We’re going to have to get better, we believe, to have a chance at the Paralympic gold medal and we believe we can do that by doing a lot of homework away from each other,” Babey says. “That’s the nature of a de-centralized team. We’re not together every day. When we are together, we have to take advantage of that but, more importantly, when we’re away we have to be doing our work.

“The guys are committed, they worked hard all last year and it showed up at the world [championship] and they see the value of that hard work now, that they are the reigning world champions.”

For their part, the players are up to the challenge. They know they’re far from finished.

“The biggest thing for us is not letting [the world championship win] change our preparation,” says McGregor. “We’re all very confident in what we’re doing to prepare in the way we’ve prepared the last couple of years. It’s important for us to not let a world championship change what we’re doing. Getting right back to work, trying to execute our systems even better as we move forward.”

For more information:

Lisa Dornan
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4557 / 403-510-7046 (mobile)
ldornan@hockeycanada.ca

 

Morgan Bell
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6427
mbell@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

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