Having guarded the crease of the Canadian national women’s ice sledge hockey team, Shawnie Snell is another proud player from Southwestern Ontario that has maintained the region’s growing legacy as a hotbed for ice sledge hockey. Born with cerebral palsy, Snell has not let it hold her back, establishing herself as a role model for others.
Competing at the club level for head coach Jim MacNeil on the Lambton Dragons, Snell is one of the first women to compete on the team. She was also joined by fellow female competitor Jordan Williamson. Having started in the game before she was ten years old, her first team was the Sarnia Ice Hawks juniors.
With five years of experience in the sport to her credit, Snell was part of the sport’s incipient years, having contributed to its growth. Named as an alternate to the national team for the 2015-16 season, her experiences in the game have proven to be positive.
“I started through the Pathways Children’s Centre in Sarnia. To be part of the world championships in Brampton makes me feel extremely proud.”
During her goaltending career, one of the most important teammates in Snell’s career is fellow goaltender Jessie Gregory. Having shared goaltending duties on the national team, Snell discusses how the two always maintained an open dialogue, always looking to give their teammates a chance to win,
“Her and I talk about different things, techniques, and difficult stops. We try to help each other out. When it comes to stopping pucks, we always discuss in order to try to work things better.”
Gregory, whose club team is the Brant County Crushers, is one of the winningest goaltenders in the history of the Canadian program. Maintaining a rapport with her fellow goaltender is an important aspect of the game as both understand the impact of being the last line of defense,
“We get along really good. We played together for four years. We pretty well know how to play together and share ice time.”
Having made her debut for Canada in a game against their archrivals the United States, it marked the beginning of a proud career donning the Maple Leaf. Snell recounts how the experience resulted in a series of mixed emotions, “I was nervous and excited! Definitely trying to focus but sometimes it was not always that easy.”
Throughout her career, Snell’s experiences have been enhanced by the presence of her service dog, Acorn. As some competing players require the use of a service dog off the ice, it truly becomes a de facto member of the team. It is not uncommon to see a service dog grace the ice after an emotional victory, sharing in the jubilation. Snell is quick to attest as to the importance of Acorn in her career,
“She does feel like a teammate. If I had bad ice time, she greets me. It is definitely a pick-me-up after a bad game. She keeps up the energy so I can do good.”
Having been part of several landmark moments with the national program, Snell is definitely one of the game’s goaltending pioneers. Wearing the Maple Leaf has proven to be the culmination of a lifelong dream, one that shall provide her with a lifetime of memories,
“It is amazing. As a kid, I always wanted to play at the highest level that I could. I knew about sledge hockey for women and being on the team the last couple of years, I want to make sure that I can continue to do that.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Mark Staffieri