While the top male ice sledge hockey programs in the world battled for the gold medal at the 2015 IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship, it was a simultaneous opportunity to celebrate the female game. Not only did the American and Canadian female teams get the chance to visit host city Buffalo, New York and observe the world class competition on-ice, both engaged in a series of training camps.
In addition to getting the chance to reacquaint with teammates and shake off any rink rust, the opportunity for both men’s and women’s ice sledge hockey players to meet only served to enhance an already positive experience. It was an element that enriched the experience for Canadian goaltender Jessie Gregory. The growing mutual respect between the men’s and women’s programs signifies an era built on encouragement where a promising future is destined to increase the sport’s prominence.
“I always love watching all the men’s teams play, especially the men’s Canadian team. They are all just amazing. I have learned so much from them, they are all so great helping us whenever they can. I watched as many of the games as I could when we did not have ice (time). There is definitely an amazing mutual respect between the men’s and women’s programs. The guys are just amazing; they fully support us and want us to compete just like they do.”
During the training camps in Buffalo, the American and Canadian women’s programs also had the opportunity to grace the ice in a three-game series. Renewing rivalries for the first time since the gold medal game at the 2014 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Women’s International Cup in Brampton, Ontario, the chance to get back on the ice was one that Gregory enjoyed.
“Yes, it was definitely enjoyable for sure. We all love getting to skate together, there is nothing like it. We do not get to skate a lot together, so it is always so much fun when we get to spend time together as a team and keep growing.”
With the strong momentum developed in the aftermath of Brampton, both nations have a renewed focus and high energy. Considering that the sport engages in an exciting new direction as a demonstration event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Paralympic Games, strong feelings of national pride were on-hand. Complemented by feelings of friendship and team building, Gregory observes the bonds strengthening within this group of dedicated and accomplished athletes following a magnificent training camp.
“We did a lot this week as a team. We have all grown so much as a team and as individuals, and it sure showed this last week. I am beyond proud of our girls and our amazing team. I think this was our best camp this year for sure, we really came together as a team and we played as one.”
In the aftermath of the third and final game between Canada and the US, Gregory was recognized as the game’s Most Valuable Player. Although the United States prevailed in the first two games of the series, the Canadian contingent refused to give up in the third and final game.
Canada would bounce back and prevail by a 3-2 tally. To have the honor bestowed upon her represented a great highlight for her during a memorable week. While it was a great point of pride for her, she graciously acknowledged the support of her teammates,
“It meant a lot to me to be named MVP for Game 3. It is great to get recognized for what we love to do. We give everything on the ice for our team, no matter what we never give up. I would do anything for my team.
So when I got the MVP, it really made so proud that my team gave me the honor. To have the MVP for that game, even though each and every one of the players on our team deserved it, I am so grateful for the amazing support that my team gives me.”
In addition to her heroics on the ice, Gregory is adding other types of athletic competition to her sporting endeavors. Like so many of her teammates, the love of competition, complemented by the essence of teamwork has extended off the ice as well.
Having learned the sport of wheelchair tennis during the summer of 2014, this year shall mark her first year of competitive play. As a side note, Canadian ice sledge hockey superstar Billy Bridges (whose wife is CWHL co-founder Sami Jo Small) participated in the sport during past years.
“I also started wheelchair tennis last summer and I am going to start competing this summer. I have my first wheelchair tennis tournament in June, I’m so excited. It is a lot of fun, it took me a bit to figure out how to hold the tennis racket and wheel at the same time. Now I am able to wheel around the court with no problem.”
Also enhancing Gregory’s status as an elite athlete is an opportunity to compete in wheelchair basketball. Of note, teammate Corin Metzger has also played on the hardcourt in the offseason, holding membership at Wheelchair Basketball Canada’s National Academy.
Recently, Gregory completed her rookie season in wheelchair basketball. Competing in Burlington, Ontario, her education on the hardcourt has been a process of continued improvement, one that culminated in a chance to elevate her game to the provincial level.
“Yes, I love wheelchair basketball. I started playing last year in November and have not really stopped since. It really is a lot of fun; it took me a few practices to hit the basket. Yet, I caught on very fast. Learning the wheelchair was okay, since I am used to wheeling. Although I am still working on my ball skills, I get a little better each time I play a game.
In each game this year, I got at least a basket or two, sometimes more depending on the team I was playing for. This year, I played for both Burlington teams. I have gotten the chance to play in a few tournaments this year with my home team and also got to play in the Championships. It was an amazing experience. Plus, I also made the women’s Ontario basketball team this year which was very exciting.”
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Gregory’s superb athletic accomplishments shall take place in June 2015. With Toronto serving as the host city for the 2015 edition of the Pan Am Games, a celebratory torch relay helps builds momentum, while unifying Canadians in a strong sense of sporting pride. Earning the chance to be a torch bearer, a jubilant Gregory is anticipating the well-deserved moment.
“I get to be one of the Torch Bearers for the 2015 Pan Am Games, in Brantford, Ontario. I am so excited! It will be taking place on June 19, 2015.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
On-ice image supplied by Jessie Gregory
Jersey image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/jessiegregory84