There is no time like the present to start thinking about the future.
For Hockey Canada’s sledge hockey program, that means welcoming 29 players from across the country to the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, Ont., for the
first-ever NextGen Prospects Camp.
“For us it’s an opportunity to first and foremost work on their development, and to impress upon them the importance of skills and the types of skills that
are required to be a world-class athlete and play at a national team level,” says Marshall Starkman, manager of sledge hockey for Hockey Canada. “It’s a
chance for us to meet and interact with these players, to have an opportunity to work with them on the ice and in the end see what the future of sledge
hockey looks like for prospective Team Canada members.”
The decision to hold the camp was born from a wish to grow the game more at the grassroots level, to be more active with players still in the development
stage. It was also about finding new players – sledge players or those who are classifiable as sledge players.
And as much as it was about this athlete discovery on Hockey Canada’s end, it was also about helping athletes discover the sport itself. “It’s to sort of
introduce the game to those who could be sledge players,” says Starkman, “and to inspire in them maybe an interest or love for the game that they might not
have known enough about in the past.”
The 29 players at camp couldn’t be more diverse, both in terms of years of age and years of sledge hockey experience. Thirteen-year-old Jacob LeBlanc is
getting his first experience with Hockey Canada; Mathieu Trudeau, 31, made his debut with Canada’s National Sledge Team earlier this season. There are
players who’ve been with Canada’s National Sledge Development Team looking to get a little extra work in; there are players who will be sitting in a sled
for the first time ever this week.
The provincial members played a big role in helping uncover some unseen talent.
“We communicated with a lot of the different provincial coaches or managers and used that network to find out, who are your top players, who are the
players we absolutely should see and who should be a part of this type of opportunity,” says Starkman. Those recommendations, along with scouting reports
from Ken Babey, the head coach of Canada’s National Sledge Team, wrote the invite list.
The players have been divided into two teams and will spend four days practicing and working with members of the national team’s coaching staff, as well as
playing three intrasquad games.
“Those will give the players some added competition, but also an opportunity to feel like they’re in a real tournament situation and go through the
routine,” says Starkman. “We’re trying to impress upon them both the training practices but also the routines that go along with preparing for games.”
A quartet of special on- and off-instructors – Brad Bowden, Adam Dixon, Corbin Watson and Greg Westlake from Canada’s National Sledge Team – will also
share their first-hand knowledge and experience.
Off the ice the players will learn about physical performance, mental preparation and what it takes to play for Team Canada.
“More than anything else we’re trying to give them a taste of what it is to be a high-performance athlete and what you need to go through to excel,” says
Starkman. For 15 of the players, this is their first Hockey Canada experience. “Hopefully, it fuels a passion within these players to really want to
improve and do the things necessary to be national team members in the future.”
Some of the players may not have to wait long to wear a Team Canada jersey in competition. The camp doubles as an evaluation opportunity for selection to
play in a three-game exhibition series against the United States at the end of April as part of the Défi sportif AlterGO.
Now that part of the next generation of up-and-comers has been identified and notified, Starkman says the team will follow their progress beyond camp.
“[We want them to know] we’re here, we care, we’re interested and we want to help you achieve the highest success you can in the game.”