How good was Tyler McGregor’s start to the 2015-16 season?
When Canada’s National Sledge Team departed for Turin, Italy, and the 2015 International Ice Sledge Hockey Tournament in early December, McGregor’s career
totals with Team Canada included nine goals, 13 assists, and 22 points in 47 games across three seasons.
McGregor almost surpassed those numbers in one tournament – he racked up 11 goals and 10 assists in six games in Italy, helping Canada to gold and
making a massive leap up the all-time scoring list.
But making a massive leap is nothing new to McGregor.
Just 21, he is quickly making his mark on Canadian sledge hockey. His résumé already includes a gold medal at the 2013 IPC World Sledge Ice Hockey
Championship, bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympic Games, and the gold in Turin, in addition to a gold (2013) and bronze (2015) at the World
Sledge Hockey Challenge.
And through those international experiences, the Forest, Ont., native continues to develop on and off the ice.
“Tyler just continues to progress as a player,” says Ken Babey, head coach of Canada’s National Sledge Team. “He’s continuing to get better in all aspects
of his game, whether it’s passing, shooting, [or] skating. He has a lot of passion and spirit and he plays a real Canadian style; he puts his nose in and
goes hard all the time.”
Those were the same qualities McGregor had as a highly-touted Minor Midget player with the Lambton Jr. Sting before a cancer diagnosis in 2009 led to the
amputation of his left leg above the knee and ended his stand-up hockey dreams.
By 2011 McGregor was in a sled for the first time with the London Blizzard, he debuted for Canada’s National Sledge Development Team in January 2012, and
was a full-time member of the national team by the following fall.
His career path has pointed nowhere but up ever since.
But while Turin may have been his coming-out party, he’s the first one to say he couldn’t have done it alone.
“Every time you have a tournament like I had in Italy, you have to give credit to all the guys around you, and I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by some
very good players,” he says. “Especially at this level, the individual efforts are very rare, so I have to credit my teammates who also had tremendous
tournaments in Italy.”
In particular, McGregor’s strong play rubbed off on Team Canada rookie Dominic Cozzolino, who finished his first tournament with the national team with 14
points (six goals, eight assists) in six games.
So what’s behind the sudden jump in offensive output? McGregor credits good ol’ fashioned hard work.
Just in the three-plus years he’s been part of Team Canada, he’s watched the game get faster and more skilled, and knows that without practice, nothing is
guaranteed – especially not a roster spot.
“I’ve always worked hard away from the team and I always felt it’s important to do that,” he says. “I’m still relatively new to the sport, so it’s a matter
of continuing to build that skill set and it’s finally starting to pay dividends.”
Because Canada’s National Sledge Team is not a centralized program – meeting only every few months for camps in his first few seasons – McGregor has had a
lot of alone time to work on his skills and better his game.
After every camp and tournament, McGregor heads home to southwestern Ontario with new tips and tricks that he works on during his down time. And all the
work he’s putting into his game isn’t going unnoticed.
“It takes a lot of discipline and commitment to do that – and obviously he has those because every time he comes back he’s gotten better and better. You
could tell he’s been practicing a lot,” says Babey.
His competitiveness, matched with a solid work ethic, is what has earned McGregor the respect of his teammates and coaches. Without trying he’s become a
natural leader, even for the veteran players.
If you ask him, he’ll be the first to say that he simply goes out and plays. But his coach has a different opinion, one of the big reasons McGregor earned
the honour this season of wearing an ‘A’ with Team Canada.
“I wouldn’t have believed it,” McGregor says about wearing a letter on his Team Canada jersey. “Especially amongst the group of guys we have here. It’s
incredible because I truly believe that any guy on this team can be considered a leader. So to have that recognition and to know that guys have your back
is very important to me.”
“He’s showing both veterans and rookies that you need to work hard and that by the way he approaches the game, and how professionally he acts away from the
ice, is how to do things the Canadian way,” Babey says.
Just three years into his Team Canada career, already an alternate captain, and on the verge of breaking into the top 10 in all-time scoring with Canada’s
National Sledge Team, it’s safe to say Tyler McGregor is on the rise.
And there’s a good chance the best is yet to come.