Gathering in the Ottawa suburb of Stittsville, Ontario, a bright future was the prevailing theme for the Canadian national women’s ice sledge hockey team. Holding their annual training camp at the Matt Bradley Arena, the first arena in the Ottawa region accessible to players with disabilities, a combination of veteran players and new faces brought their love of the game, some meeting for the first time.
With a record number of players attending the training camp, the high quality of talent was evident from the outset. Returning this season as Canada’s head coach, Tara Chisholm was pleased with the results of the camp, looking ahead with great enthusiasm and optimism,
“I think this year is the highest level of skill and competition that I have ever seen. I am excited for the future of the sport, knowing that it will continue to build every year.”
Among the new faces, London, Ontario’s McKenzie Spong was the youngest player in attendance, one month shy of celebrating her 15th birthday. In addition, there was another resident of southwestern Ontario was making her debut at the national camp.
Bringing a remarkable athletic resume, former wheelchair racer Jessica Matassa was also looking to make an impression. A bronze medalist in the 800-meter T54 wheelchair race at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Summer Games, she would also earn three gold medals at the 2007 Parapan American Games in Rio, respectively.
Starting goaltender Jessie Gregory is one of the program’s cornerstones. In discussing the positive aspects of the training camp, she was quick to point out the record number of players vying for a chance to don the Maple Leaf on their jersey,
“It was great to have so many girls out there. This was the most we ever had at tryouts. There was a lot of talent out there over the weekend.”
As the players split up into two separate rosters, Team Red and Team White, for a series of intrasquad games, the fans on-hand were treated to a very exciting display of ice sledge hockey. Ashley Goure of Team White was a remarkable presence on the ice, contributing three points in the first intrasquad game. As one of the national team’s great scorers, Goure was hoping to set an example for her squad,
“As one of the leaders on the team, I try to show my leadership skills on the ice.”
In attendance for the intrasquad games were the likes of ice sledge hockey heroes Herve Lord and Todd Nicholson, both residents in the Ottawa region. Having both competed on home soil at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games, Nicholson was the team captain. Among their career highlights, they both contributed to Canada capturing the gold medal at the 2006 Torino Paralympic Winter Games. Their show of support is testament to the class that they bring to their sport and their enthusiasm to see the game grow.
Despite such an embarrassment of riches, the task of selecting a final roster for the 2015-16 season shall certainly prove to be a very difficult task. One bright spot is that as the game continues to grow, perhaps one day, there may be an Under-22 team, able to accommodate more talent and provide experience.
For team captain Christina Picton, she was very happy with the outcome of such a successful camp, “I think that things went very well at the camp. I am excited to see the new faces and new talent. The coaches will have a tough time. This season may be one of our best yet.”
With an introductory skate on the final day of the training camp, it mirrored an admirable effort that Picton helped to organize. Although she was not able to attend, due to her obligations with the training camp, it reflected a proud effort, “It is very positive for this sport and great to see people come out and try. Actually in my hometown today, we are having an organized tryout for people of all ages and I helped to organize it.”
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the training camp was the chance for fans to connect with the players. On the final day of the training camp, things culminated with an afternoon skate, providing many with the opportunity to mount the sled for the first time. With several national team members on the ice as well, it was not only a chance for novice sledders to gain a new admiration of the effort required to play the game, but make some new friends in the process.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”