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Ice Sledge Hockey Star Peggy Assinck Brings Teamwork Skills to Paragames Breda

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For the second consecutive year, Peggy Assinck participated in a prestigious international sporting event. After competing in the inaugural IPC Women’s World Ice Sledge Hockey Challenge in 2014, the native of Surrey, British Columbia brought her love of sport and competition to the 2015 Breda Paragames, hosted in the Netherlands.

Competing in wheelchair floorball at the Paragames, Assinck’s participation in the sport is akin to the women of standup hockey who compete in ball hockey during their offseason. It also adds to a growing legacy on the Canadian ice sledge hockey program that has seen many of its competitors excel in multiple sports.

As a charter member of Canada’s national women’s ice sledge hockey team, Assinck’s efforts at the Paragames Breda were a proud extension of the growing legacy she has crafted on the ice. Competing as a member of Canada’s defensive corps, she opted to compete at the same position with the wheelchair floorball team. 

“I think my ability to play strong defense was the best part of my game. It was not really much different from playing sledge hockey except that you get to block way more shots in a wheelchair than in a sledge. I really felt like I learned how to play the angles well and I was lucky enough to have my defense partner be my good friend Russell (an athlete from Ontario). Russell and I played our junior sledge hockey years together between when we were 12-20 and all that good communication came back into play while we were playing floorball.”

Employing the same rules as stand-up floorball (five-on-five play, three 20-minute periods, two creases that players cannot enter and not allowed to touch the ball with their hands), Assinck was part of Canada’s national wheelchair floorball team. The only woman on the squad, Assinck was looking to help the squad improve on its previous finish from 2013. Although there is no organizing body for a Canadian national team, Assinck was among a group of Canadian athletes proud to don the Maple Leaf and take to the court for the three-day tournament.

A biennial event which began in 2011, the Canadian team endured a fifth place finish out of seven competing teams in 2013. This year, the event expanded to eight competing countries including Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and host nation, The Netherlands.

Considering that floorball and wheelchair floorball are much more popular in Europe, with several national teams enjoying funding, placing Assinck and her Canadian teammates at a competitive disadvantage, there was no shortage of heart. One of the most admirable aspects consisted of the Canadian team holding fundraisers and obtaining sponsorships to acquire jerseys.

Part of the experience was the chance to strengthen her friendship with fellow ice sledge hockey competitor Eline van der Gaag. A goaltender for Team Europe, van der Gaag is a resident of the Netherlands, and competed at the IPC event in November 2014, which was hosted in Brampton, Ontario, on Assinck’s home soil. The chance for Assinck to visit van der Gaag’s homeland and compete there was a chance to add a new experience to her sporting career,

“Yes, it is always great to see athletes/friends from other teams. Specifically, Eline and I have been close for a few years now. She knew that my dad’s side of the family is from Holland. Therefore, she brought me Stroopwaffel during our last competition in Brampton.”

As a side note, Stroopwaffel has its origins in the Dutch city of Gouda. Two thin layers of baked dough are held together with a caramel filling in the middle, occasionally consisting of cinnamon, they are popularly consumed with tea.

Considering that women’s ice sledge hockey continues to grow internationally, resulting in a borderless game, one of its benefits is the unique friendships that develop. Bringing together remarkable individuals from diverse backgrounds and sometimes unique things in common, it has become of the game’s defining features during its nascent years.

Having captured a bronze medal at the inaugural IPC Women’s Worlds, van der Gaag has found a kindred spirit in the Canadian-born Assinck. Considering that their athletic paths initially crossed at the first world championships in Philadelphia (although not recognized by the IPC), the impact of such a landmark event unified players from North America and Europe.

While the game and the efforts of its players were celebrated, a precedent was set, as mutual respect and the emanating friendships ensured a great future was in place for women’s ice sledge hockey.

"Since I met Peggy in Philadelphia, I feel we have a special connection (possibly also because of her Dutch roots). So, when Peggy sent a message that she was visiting the Netherlands, there was no doubt that I was traveling to meet her in Breda! It is always nice to see each other and nice to see her practicing another sport. It was nice to see that Team Canada was having fun with each other. On that day, I was cheering for Team Canada!" proclaimed van der Gaag.

While van der Gaag showed her support for Assinck and her Canadian teammates, such support was reciprocated. Showing great team spirit, Assinck took part in a fund raising initiative that helped benefit the European women’s ice sledge hockey team. It is that type of compassion which embodies the true sense of friendship and mutual respect that defines women’s ice sledge hockey.

“It was amazing to see her in Breda and really nice to have a cheering section during our games. I was also able to help them with their teams’ current fundraising endeavors to help support traveling for their team. I sent a message out to the girls on our team and we all wanted to help out, so as a group we bought many, many wrist bands from them.

I think for us, all the women’s teams are really working together with the ultimate goal of trying to grow Women’s sledge hockey, so when we are not on the ice directly competing, it is fantastic to help support each other’s programs and get to know each other.”

Assinck’s journey in the Netherlands resulted in more than just getting in touch with her Dutch heritage. As she works tirelessly to see ice sledge hockey grow, the chance to compete at the Paragames Breda engaged in the life lessons of understanding and acceptance, revealing her to a whole new group of people equally dedicated to making their own sport grow.

The feeling of sportsmanship may have proved to be the most important aspect, eclipsing the competition itself. For Assinck, it helped to enrich her potential as a remarkable athletic ambassador. Friendly and articulate, Assinck is also a PhD candidate, providing a pioneering effort to raise awareness for wheelchair floorball while providing women with more sporting opportunities.

“For me, it was both about meeting all the new people and feeling so welcome as athletes in that specific tournament and in the sport of wheelchair floorball. For us, it was a pretty big learning curve to learn a new sport that we do not play much here in Canada. The tournament organizers, coaches, refs and athletes on all the other European teams were very supportive.

They were so happy that we traveled all that way and they did everything they could to make out time in Breda very enjoyable. I also really enjoyed the process by which we came together as a team and improved throughout the tournament. Our team consisted of athletes from Ontario, Alberta and BC. The first time we all practiced together was the day before the tournament, and I was presently surprised at how well we came together as a team and improved from the first day of the tournament to the last.”

Regardless of the final outcome, wheelchair floorball saw a collaborative effort on the part of all involved, to show that sporting equality is a privilege that all disabled individuals are entitled to. A memory to be treasured forever, representing sport in a form where goodwill and sportsmanship reflected the essence of friendly competition, making sport dignified and accessible, it was truly a team effort.

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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