Canadian National Team once again going for gold
The last World Sledge Hockey Challenge in April 2011 in London, Ont., saw Canada come out on top, beating out Norway for the gold medal win.
This November, Calgary will host the return of the World Sledge Hockey Challenge, where Canada will once again compete for the first-place gold medal.
Sledge hockey is quickly becoming one of the more popular sports within the Paralympic Games.
The sport sees players manoeuvring the ice with a sledge — a carriage outfitted with two skates below its metal frame.
Kieran Block, a winger for the Canadian National Team from Edmonton, Alta., is happy the event could be hosted so close to home.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for Alberta to showcase sledge hockey in the western part of Canada,” Block said. “I think we’re really fortunate to have it in Calgary.”
“I shouldn’t say this, but I’m happy that Calgary is hosting a big tournament even though I’d love to see it in Edmonton being an Edmonton guy,” Block said.
“It’s great just because it’s going to show so many more people in this part of the country what this sport’s about.”
This is Block’s first season with the Canadian National Team. He previously played for the Edmonton Impact, which is a club team out of Edmonton.
Fittingly, Block said he felt a sense of pressure, although not entirely from the team but more so from himself.
“I think I put it on myself,” Block said. “I know a lot of guys who have done well in the sport and I really want to get to that elite level within the team and I think I’m capable of doing that.
Steve Arsenault, a defenseman, felt there was pressure on the team as a whole to live up to high standards.
“Being part of the Hockey Canada program and having that excellence in hockey, regardless of whether it be stand-up or sledge hockey, there’s always that added pressure to perform,” Arsenault said.
“To our standards and the country’s standards.”
The high standards start with the way the national team trains.
Unlike with other sports teams, preparation for the upcoming tournament is largely an individual effort for each member of the Canadian team.
“We only get together about once a month. Really, the training is up to you,” Block said.
“It’s tough with sledge hockey because you’re not with the team all the time like you are in stand-up,” Arsenault said. “I know I can speak on Kieran’s behalf and my own when I say we both train seven days a week, and that’s just the way it has to be.”
David Legg, program co-ordinator and instructor for the Sport & Recreation program at Mount Royal University as well as the president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, said that sledge hockey gets enough attention within the Paralympic sports community, yet could use more outside of it.
“Within disability sport, I’d say sledge hockey gets very good media exposure,” Legg said.
“Within the context of sport in general, perhaps not, but if you look at it within the context of the number of athletes that participate and compare that to other sports that get played regardless of whether they are disability sports or not, it does okay.”
Were Canada to take gold medal at the tournament this November, Block feels it would elevate the level of sledge hockey throughout Canada.
“I think we’re moving towards being known as the kings. If you look at both the men’s team and the women’s team, every year they’re a threat,” Block said. “We just want to be on par with the rest of Canada and let people know that hockey is a Canadian sport.”
“We’re going to fight for every tournament and for every win because we want to make our country proud.”
The World Sledge Hockey Challenge will take place Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 at the new WinSport Canada Athletic and Ice Complex at Canada Olympic Park.
Canada will be competing against Japan, Norway, and the United States.
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