Youth movement ignites veterans for 2018-19 Para ice hockey season

Team Canada gets back into action on Sunday at the Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup

CALGARY – When Team Canada gets back into action on Sunday December 2 at the Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup in London, Ont., there’ll be several new faces but also some familiar ones such as forward Billy Bridges and Tyler McGregor.

With those established veterans setting the tone, don’t expect Canada to take its foot off the gas pedal in a post-Paralympic Games season. The plan is pretty much to rebuild and win at the same time, even with nine new players in the line-up from the squad that was iced in PyeongChang.

‘’There are some massive sleds to fill this season but that just brings the level of excitement to get better that much higher,’’ said Bridges, a five-time Paralympian and Canada’s all-time leading goal scorer. 

‘’Some of the newcomers have only been playing for a couple of years but they have progressed so fast. Now it’s a question of trying to help them gain those skills they need to keep up with teams like the USA.’’

The Americans defeated Canada in overtime in the Paralympic Games final this past March in PyeongChang. They have also won the Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup four times in a row. The two countries will meet at least twice in London in the round robin. They are favored to clash for a third time in the final.

‘’Being from the London area and with a lot of guys from Ontario it would be really special to win the tournament this year,’’ said McGregor. ‘’We are going to be a team this year with a lot of energy with the new players and the fact the returnees haven’t played a tournament since last March.’’

‘’I can’t wait to get started.’’

Canada’s head coach Ken Babey admits the agony of last winter’s loss still stings. However he says this young group is so talented he feels Canada is laying the foundation for success over the next three to four Paralympic Games.

‘’It’s an exciting time right now for the program and the team,’’ said Babey. ‘’The new players have a lot of enthusiasm, speed, skill and talent. They could be on this team a long time.’’

There are nine returnees from the Paralympic Games team: goaltenders Dominic Larocque and Corbin Watson; defencemen James Gemmell and Liam Hickey and forwards Bridges, McGregor, Dominic Cozzolino, James Dunn and Corbyn Smith. 

Newcomers are Rod Crane, Zach Lavin and Kevin Sorley on defence and forwards Alexis Auclair, Cody Dolan, Anton Jacob-Webbs, Micah Kovacevich, Antoine Lehoux and Garrett Riley.

Canada opens the Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup tournament Sunday evening December 2 at 7 p.m. (ET) against South Korea then face the U.S. in the first rematch since the 2018 Paralympic Games gold medal game on Monday December 3 at 7 p.m. Canada faces the Koreans again Wednesday December 5 at noon and the U.S the following evening at 7 p.m. The championship game is Saturday December 8 at 4 p.m.

“It’s a tournament we really take pride in,’’ said Bridges. ‘’The gold medal game is broadcast live across Canada on TSN. We want our new players to get that game experience and also test ourselves to see where our summer training has brought us.’’