Just over eight months after its heartbreaking overtime loss to the United
States in the gold medal game at the Paralympics, Canada’s National Para
Hockey Team gets a new season underway this week at the 2018 Canadian Tire
Para Hockey Cup.
But the Team Canada that takes the ice in London will look much different
than the one that came within 37.8 seconds of a gold medal in PyeongChang.
Six players from the Paralympic roster are gone, taking time away from
the game to nurse injuries and explore their options outside of the game,
and there are some notable names among the half-dozen.
The list includes captain Greg Westlake, top defencemen Steve Arsenault,
Brad Bowden and Adam Dixon, and forwards Ben Delaney and Bryan Sholomicki;
those six players combined for 13 goals and 39 points in South Korea,
numbers that will not be easily replaced.
But the absences mean opportunity for six Team Canada rookies making their
debuts in London, and head coach Ken Babey likes what those players will
bring to the ice.
“I think we’re going to be faster, and I think we’re going to have a lot
more energy because of the youth, and hopefully that bodes well for us,”
Babey says. “We may be inexperienced at times, but overall we’re still the
Canadian team that we have been, and over time we’re going to be stronger
And it’s not as if the Canadians are lacking firepower or leadership. The
top five scorers from the Paralympics – led by Tyler McGregor and Liam
Hickey – are back, and there is plenty of veteran know-how to go around.
“I think the veterans are the key,” Babey says. “Coaches can talk and show
things, but it’s really the veteran players that do it in a variety of
ways, like being friends, socializing, showing it on the ice, explaining
things peer-to-peer, and I think that has a more powerful impact than
“Our guys have done a really good job, and they’ve responded to that and
we’ll see this week how we go. The real test is going to be when you get
under pressure and get in some battles, and we’ll see how we do. I like our
chances and I like the way the guys have come along.”
They have also benefitted from international experience with Canada’s
National Para Hockey Development Team. All six new faces – Alexis Auclair,
Rod Crane, Cody Dolan, Anton Jacobs-Webb, Micah Kovacevich and Garrett
Riley – have played with the development side, and know the expectations
that come with wearing the Maple Leaf.
And despite a new-look roster, those expectations haven’t changed.
“If you play hockey for Canada and your goal is anything but trying to win
every single game, then you’re not a Canadian hockey player,” says Billy
Bridges, who enters his 21st season with the national team as the all-time
leader in games played (219), goals, (183), assists (200) and points (383).
“We do appreciate that there is a process and that we do have new players,
but veteran or rookie, we need to take pride in our effort.”
The 2018-19 season marks the beginning of a new four-year Paralympic cycle,
with sights set directly on Beijing and the 2022 Games, so what better time
to reimagine Team Canada?
There may be 1,188 days to go until the Opening Ceremony in China, but the
work starts now.
“Right from the get-go, we’ve placed an emphasis on the next four years of
developing para hockey in Canada and that starts with this team here,” says
Bridges. “It’s special to feed off the energy [of the rookies] and redefine
the culture on our team. The guys who aren’t with us this year are
impossible shoes to fill, and I hope these guys realize that now is the
time for them to establish their own identity as players.”