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
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
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
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
“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
“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.”