For the first time since the 2006 Paralympics in Torino, Canada’s men's sledge hockey team is going to the gold medal game, as they will battle against their American rivals on March 18 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The team won their semifinal by a 7-0 score against the host South Koreans. Through the three games of the round robin and the semifinal, the Canadians have scored 42 goals and allowed zero. They have also held their opponents to a total of 13 shots through four games.
The Canadian team is led by Tyler McGregor, who has eight goals and five assists so far in the tournament. Billy Bridges and Liam Hickey each have five goals as well. Goalies Corbin Watson and Dominic Larocque have combined to be perfect, which is a good way to be.
They face the American team in the finals. The Americans won gold in Sochi in 2014, and will be hoping to repeat that. They also dominated their round robin games, winning all three by a combined 28-0. They scored 10 goals against the Italians in the semi but ALLOWED A GOAL! Oh...the humanity...
I have long had an affinity for sledge hockey because of the skill involved, and the stories of perseverance that these athletes have.
Some, like McGregor and 17-year-old James Dunn, endured amputations after being afflicted with cancer. Winnipegger Bryan Sholomicki had his left leg amputated and suffered third-degree burns to over 60% of his body after a motorcycle accident in August of 2009. Larocque lost a leg to an IED blast while serving with the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan in 2007. Bridges was born with Spina Bifida, and has been part of the national team since he was 14 years old. Seeing as he’s 33 now, he’s a bit of a veteran, and was part of the gold medal winning team in 2006 and the bronze medal winning team in 2014.
Sledge hockey, and the paralympics in general, never gets the fame or attention given to athletes attending the Olympics, but it’s every bit as entertaining and challenging for the competitors. Hockey Canada began investing in the men’s national sledge hockey team in 2004, and funding does not currently exist for a women’s sledge hockey team, despite interest, because the International Paralympic Committee does not recognize it because there aren’t enough national teams because there isn’t funding because it isn’t recognized because there aren’t enough teams because there isn’t funding...do you see where I’m going with this? Since 2010, paralympic ice hockey has been a mixed event, which means that women can participate. But, for a number of reasons, none have until this year, with Lena Schroeder of Norway being the sole female representative.
Hopefully by 2022 things will have sorted themselves out, and we’ll see a women’s tournament AND a men’s tournament in Beijing.
And hopefully, the Canadians win gold this weekend in PyeongChang.