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Para hockey rivals Canada and the U.S. face off in Elmira this week

Team Canada players practiced Monday at the WMC ahead of exhibition games against the U.S. [Colin Merlihan]

They come from all over the country, but they’re united in one goal: take back the gold medal for Canada.

To that end, Canada’s National Para Hockey Team is training in Elmira this week, playing a pair of exhibition games against their rivals today (Thursday) and Saturday at the WMC.

A member of the team since 2004-05 – his first coach was Elmira’s Jeff Snyder – defenceman Greg Westlake is well versed in the rivalry with the U.S.

“We have years where we were the dominant team, and other years where they were the dominant one,” he said following a practice session this week.

Canada last claimed gold in 2017, and the team is eager to get it back, added team captain Tyler McGregor, noting the two North American teams dominate the sport on the international stage.

Playing against the U.S. team, even an exhibition series, is a way to hone their skills and stay sharp, he noted.

“Our only opportunity to play meaningful games is against the U.S. – we’re the top two teams in the world,” said McGregor. “As high-performance athletes, these games challenge you the most, to bring your best – that’s what these games do.”

The training session that opened Monday in Elmira saw the teammates gather from across the country, something they typically do seven to 10 days each month, said team manager Marshall Starkman.

Given that they only spend a limited amount of time together, the players have to train on their own or in smaller groups, making the sessions together as efficient as possible.

“We do a great job of maximizing our time together,” said McGregor.

As it’s not a centralized team, the players have to push themselves to keep training, said Corbyn Smith, a forward from nearby Monkton.

“I try to get together with some of the guys in the area,” he said, noting he’s typically in the GTA a couple of times a week, along with league play with a team in the Barrie area.

McGregor, originally from Forest, Ont. and now living in Toronto, and Westlake (Oakville) are both part of the group from this part of Ontario who train together.

“It’s important to keep at it. You want to come to camp in good shape,” said Smith of the training regimen.

This week’s series will mark the first time the teams have met since the gold medal game at the 2019 Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup in early December. Exhibition matches are set for Thursday at 11:30 a.m. and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the Woolwich Memorial Centre.

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