“I’m just starting to work on season plan D.”
Such is the life of a coach during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Ken Babey, head coach of Canada’s National Para Hockey Team, the latest
plan finally includes a little bit of on-ice action, with 14 players
gathering at Hockey Canada headquarters at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park
for training camp beginning this week.
But even that will look different that Babey had originally hoped. With the
challenges of travel during the pandemic and the risks that come from
pre-existing health issues, a number of players have decided not to attend,
leaving a roster that includes mostly up-and-comers.
The 14 players who will travel to Calgary have combined for 313 games with
the national team, and 218 of those belong to captain Tyler McGregor (109)
and mainstay defencemen Rob Armstrong (62) and Tyrone Henry (47).
Babey is turning the negative of not icing a full group into the positive
of getting extra time to work with players that he may not typically have
as much one-on-one time with during the course of a season.
“This is a good opportunity for them to show how much they've improved
since we were together,” he says. “We've been away from each other for
about 10 months now. They've been doing individual training on and off the
ice. So we'll see how they look and we'll put them through their paces and
see what their conditioning is like, and see their puck-handling skills,
and we'll put them under pressure. We'll try and have some fun, too, and
make a competition out of the week.”
And it’s not as if the players who won’t be in Calgary haven’t been
Since the team was last together for a series against the U.S. in
mid-February, Hockey Canada has facilitated the creation of hub cities
across the country, allowing for groups of players to get on the ice a few
times a week to keep their skills sharp.
“We're fortunate because a lot of them are grouped together, especially the
Ontario guys, which is the primary make-up of our team,” Babey says.
“They’re getting together three or four or five of them at a time. [It is]
good for them to feel part of the team and feel connected to each other,
and also challenge each other.”
Much like Troy Ryan, his coaching counterpart with Canada’s National
Women’s Team, Babey has stayed virtually connected to his team throughout
the pandemic, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities to work on the
off-ice component of the program.
“When things happen like [the pandemic], negative things, so to speak, you
have to turn them into a positive,” Babey says. “We have a great staff here
and people that said, ‘Okay, what gaps could we fill when we're not
together?’ So, that's the approach we took. And it's all about building our
“We've been doing weekly virtual team hockey talks, and we've been doing a
leadership program. Our mental performance coach has met with [players]
weekly to do individual training. As a group we've really been working
together pretty much or more than we actually have in the past in some
ways. And we worked a little bit on our team culture concepts. We couldn't
get on the ice together so we thought, okay, we've got to get connected
together and work on some things off the ice that we can maybe fix in terms
of our culture as we approach the next 414 days.”
That countdown leads to the Opening Ceremony of the 2022 Paralympic Winter
Games, where Team Canada will look to erase the heartbreak of 2018 – it was
38 seconds from gold in PyeongChang before settling for silver.
With the international schedule in flux for the rest of the 2020-21 season
– the IPC world championship planned for the Czech Republic in May could be
postponed or outright cancelled – Beijing 2022 is a shining beacon on the
hockey horizon, and everything Babey does now revolves around the
That includes the next two weeks at camp, where young players will have an
unexpected opportunity to showcase the progress they’ve made and prove they
should be in the conversation for 2022 – and beyond.
“If they've been putting in the work, we should see they have improved,”
Babey says. “So that could mean very strong depth in 2022. And then also
into the next quad (the four-year Paralympic cycle). A lot of these players
that are coming here could move on to the next quad, too.
“This is the future of the program, really.”