World Sledge Hockey Challenge encourages young player

The 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge wrapped up this week in Calgary, but the impact that the tournament left on some will last a lifetime.

Team Canada’s gold medal hopes came to an end on Saturday, after being shutout 1 – 0 by Team U.S.A., and while the result was disappointing for fans, young sledge hockey players like Auren Halbert left the game inspired.

Auren, who just celebrated his 10th birthday earlier this month, was born with a congenital condition that caused his left leg not to be formed correctly. When Auren was only one year old, his parents opted to have his leg amputated so that he could fit a prosthetic leg better when it came time.

Proudly wearing his Team Canada jersey, Auren waited for his heroes to leave the dressing room. As he waited to get signatures from his favourite players, Auren reflected on the game.

“I thought it was really fast. It was really physical,” Auren said.

Auren plays center for the Calgary Venom sledge hockey team, but said he hopes to play for Team Canada one day.

Auren, wearing his signed jersey, poses for a picture with Team Canada forward Billy Bridges at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge.

Photo by A.J. Mike Smith

When asked how long until it will be until he might be wearing the maple leaf, Auren didn’t hesitate.

“Five years,” he said.

As players trickled out from the dressing room, they were more than happy to stop and chat with Auren, before finding a rare patch of red to add their signature.

It has been a difficult couple of months for Auren, who just underwent surgery on his hip and femur to help his mobility. He is scheduled to undergo more surgery in January, meaning he is unable to play hockey.

Auren’s father, Alan Halbert, spent the week volunteering at the tournament.

“This week was a good boost for Auren to stay focused on being positive so he can get back on the ice and back to hockey,” Halbert said. “It’s a great opportunity to see what skills he needs to work on, and put some faces to names.”

Alan also recently began playing sledge hockey in Calgary.

“It is such a fun sport that I decided to join. Being able-bodied isn’t any advantage. They still love to cream me out there,” Halbert said.

For some players on Team Canada, inspiring young players like Auren means the world to them.

“It really is cool that kids are now growing up knowing about sledge hockey, whether disabled or able-bodied, and they’re enjoying the sport and loving it,” said Team Canada forward Billy Bridges.

Bridges, who is restricted to a wheelchair because of a congenital disorder in his spine, began playing sledge hockey at the age of 12. He said he has been fortunate to play sledge hockey in front of fans across Canada.

“From Prince George, British Columbia, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and everywhere in between, I’ve seen so many people fall in love with this game,” said Bridges. “It means so much to help grow this sport and keep inspiring young kids.”

With the 2013 World Sledge Championships taking place in Goyang City, Korea, in April, the sport’s impact has gone global.

And you can be sure Auren will be watching, waiting for his turn to represent his country.

mlaurin@cjournal.ca