Vancouver Paralympics – Sledge Hockey

Canada’s always been hockey crazy, and winning the Olympic gold medal game against the United States was icing-on-the-cake. Except for the efforts of the American goalie, Ryan Miller, I thought my home team played less well than the Canuks, so they deserved the medal.

If you are in Vancouver for the Paralympics, there’s the chance for a rematch. And, maybe the hockey will catapault these Games, and the tremendous spirit and courage of Paralympians, into the international consciousness. Their Summer Games were certainly “buried” by the media last time in Beijing. Of course, traditionally, the Chinese are not too supportive of handicapped people in their culture, but they undoubtedly mount a team these days. And, the last Winter Games in Turin, Italy were the same — no coverage.

So, the Paralympic Canadian hockey team went to a revered hockey mecca on their way to Vancouver, and if you love hockey, then head there, too.

The town is Trail, BC. It was made famous by 2 previous hockey teams.

Nothing says hockey in British Columbia quite like Trail, home of the world-champion Smoke Eaters of 1939 and 1961 and the historic Cominco Arena, which is tucked away by the river and is below the town’s iconic smoke-belching smelter.

And nothing quite conveys small-town, forestry-dependent B.C. like donning a “Salmo dinner jacket”, more commonly known as a plaid, wool lumberjack shirt. And, indeed the 2010 team was decked out in red and black plaid shirts.

For Canada’s sledge hockey team, bound for Vancouver and the Paralympic Games, a bus journey this past week through hardscrabble Kootenay towns like Kimberley, Trail and Salmo has been the perfect thing to put them in the right frame-o-mind to defend their 2006 gold medal.

They had talked earlier in the season about what to do before going to Vancouver and since as they don’t get the chance to travel together on the bus often, that this would be a good team-builder, circling through B.C., getting some practices in and hopefully generating some interest among the locals.

The bus rides have been typical hockey team experiences, playing cards and laughing at funny and/or stupid movies. It’s been a good bonding time for the guys. And, they love going to the small towns as small towns love their hockey.

There are players from age 20 to 51. What a great team!

While Rosen and Lord are old enough to actually know some of hockey’s glorious past, Westlake, just 23 but an ardent fan of the game, appreciated the opportunity to soak up the history of the Cominco Arena.

“Just walking into that rink, seeing some of the old Smoke Eaters sweaters and the banners from the ’30s. Reading about their Allan Cup wins when they used to have senior hockey and representing Canada. It was pretty neat.”

The team practiced in Kimberley, BC Saturday, Sunday and Monday, taking time out to watch the Olympic men’s gold-medal hockey game 8 days ago.

And with both Canada’s men’s and women’s hockey teams both winning Olympic gold, the pressure is on for the third team under Hockey Canada’s umbrella to also be a golden sweep.

In Trail, the team also got a rare tour of the Teck Cominco smelter, arranged by assistant coach Mike Mondin, who used to teach school and coach junior hockey in the city, and ironically, the Teck Resources operation is where the medals for the Olympics and Paralympics were made.

They met a bunch of the workers and held a gold bar worth a million dollars! Westlake said, “Hopefully, that was some good karma.”

See if you can still get tickets for the games!

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