Canada’s National Para Ice Hockey team, the equivalent of an Olympic-level for the sport, is making a local stop for a rigorous training camp next week.
The Woolwich Memorial Centre will play host to at least 22 elite athletes as they train to be the best in para ice hockey, formerly known as sledge hockey, starting November 11. The inclusive sport caters to athletes with physical or developmental disabilities.
“With the local community and their interest in para-hockey, it doesn’t get any better than to have an opportunity to come out and watch the national team practice and also play,” said Marshall Starkman, Team Canada’s para hockey manager.
The camp is intended to prepare Team Canada players for their upcoming 2019 Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup tournament in early December.
“From the perspective of Woolwich Sledge Hockey, we’re really excited to have something at this level brought into our area,” said Sandy Metzger, founder of the local para ice hockey chapter.
“Many of our kids on the Woolwich Thrashers aspire to go to the Paralympics someday. This is the chance to see potential Paralympians.”
This is not the first time that the WMC has hosted a national tournament, as the 2019 Canadian Sledge Hockey Championships took place this past spring, with the township welcoming ice hockey players from all across the country.
The experience was a motivating factor for Team Canada to revisit, Starkman noted.
“We were very aware of the quality of the [WMC] facility and the way things went with the nationals this past year,” said Starkman choosing the Elmira location.
“Our head coach and our assistant coach were there at the nationals and they spoke really highly of the venue and that it would be a good place for us to go one day if the opportunity presented itself.”
This particular training camp will be what Hockey Canada refers to as a developmental showcase – a combination of both practices as well as red-versus-white games. Training camps occur several times a year, as well as mini-camps to prepare for a series of games.
Players and staff on Team Canada come from just about every corner of the country, as far west as Vancouver, British Columbia and as far east as St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“Interestingly, our youngest player on the national team is 16-year-old kid from Calgary named Auren Halbert. He’s the youngest player in his first year on the national team.” said Starkman, on the age range of the players.
“Our oldest player would be 39-year-old James Gemmell from Quesnel, B.C. The average age of our team is just shy of 25 years. So we’re a really young team and set up for success long-term.”
While there will be a minimum of 22 players out for the training camp, there is a possibility of one to two more to attend should they recover from their injuries. The roster was announced in early-September, with about 18 returning players who previously donned the Canadian jersey.
The roster for the 2019-2020 season includes: goaltenders Dominic Laroque, and Corbyn Watson, defencemen Rod Crane, Tyrone Henry, Liam Hickey, Micah Kovacevich Branden Sison and Greg Westlake, forwards Rob Armstrong, Alexis Auclair, Billy Bridges, Dominic Cozzolino, Cody Dolan, James Dunn, Auren Halbert, Anton Jacobs-Webb, Zach Lavin, Antoine Lehoux, Tyler McGregor and Corbyn Smith.
Just what does it take to make Team Canada?
“It’s pretty competitive and it’s a combination of certainly on-ice proficiency, off-ice strength and conditioning, high-performance habits and character are all the really important things that we look for in our athletes,” said Starkman.
Everyone in the community is invited to come out and check out the talent. Red-versus-white games will take place November 12 and 14 starting at 2:30 p.m. Players will hit the ice for the final game November 15 at 11:30 a.m.