Canadian sledge hockey team aims to back up world title with Paralympic gold

Canada’s sledge hockey veteran says the team can handle the pressure of being the defending world champions heading in the Paralympic Games.

If you play hockey for Canada, there is always a bull’s-eye on your back, based on forwards Greg Westlake.

“Let’s just say I have played 300 career games. I have felt that the target on my back 300 times,” the three-time Paralympian stated.

Westlake, from Oakville, Ont., was one of 20 players named Monday to the 2017-18 national group by Hockey Canada. They were chosen from 30 invited to a selection camp in Calgary last week.

The roster announced Monday is basically the group which will wear the Maple Leaf in the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in March.

But, Paralympic rosters are limited to 17 players, including two goaltenders, so there’ll still be some internal contest to move up Canada’s depth chart.

The goaltenders have been finalized with Dominic Larocque of Quebec City and Corbin Watson of Kingsville, Ont., called to the group.

“We believe we have thickness now in our lineup that we may look at 20 players and see who will be the best fit concerning the Paralympics,” head coach Ken Babey said on a conference call.

“We believe we have the makings of an excellent team here as we have the ideal mix of youth, speed, ability and expertise.

“We consider these traits suit our team’s style of play and give us the best chance of having a gold trophy in March in 2018.”

Canada will host the Dec. 3-9 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Charlottetown before confronting the U.S. at a pre-Paralympic series in February.

Seventeen players that helped Canada conquer the U.S. 4-1 and win gold in April’s world championship are one of those returning to the team {}.

“We can not sit on this triumph,” Larocque said. “We are heading in a great direction, but it is not done yet. A whole lot of work to do until March.”

That world championship in the Gangneung Hockey Center in Pyeongchang was also a Paralympic evaluation occasion.

Westlake and forwards Billy Bridges of Summerside, P.E.I., won Paralympic gold in 2006 in Turin, Italy.

They won bronze eight years later in Sochi, Russia, together with Larocque, Watson and other specialists Steve Arsenault of Spruce Grove, Alta., Ottawa’s Ben Delaney, Brad Bowden of Orton, Ont., Adam Dixon of Midland, Ont., James Gemmell of Quesnel, B.C., and Tyler McGregor of Forest, Ont.

The group will spend between 40 and 50 days together in camps or competitions before the Paralympic Games, said Hockey Canada senior director of baseball operations Shawn Bullock.

The sledge group’s Own The Podium financing for 2017-18 is $675,000, which is an increase of $145,000 over the 2013-14 season.

The cash will be spent on camps, travel and equipment, including another trip to South Korea in November, ” Bullock said.

“We have improved our regional teams, support to the players, we are considering having advanced gear this season with sticks, buckets and sleds for the men,” he explained.

“We want to be sure everyone has the proper equipment and the very best gear entering Pyeongchang, so that is certainly going to be an update this year.”

“The support we have gotten from OTP is enormous. Certainly them knowing the caliber of the program and the committed staff and players that we’ve, they have seen our work ethic and the plan that’s set up and they enjoy it. So they are supporting us even farther.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail