Sharing goaltending duties with Jessie Gregory, the upcoming season is poised to be one of the most exciting in Sophie Forest’s career. One of four teenagers on this year’s team, along with Geneva Coulter, Alanna Mah, Sarah Mickey and Mackenzie Spong, the 18-year old Forest has refused to let cerebral palsy serve as an obstacle.
A member of Les Pirates de Montreal, who compete at Howie Morenz Arena, Forest is already familiar with Gregory, one of the game’s greatest ambassadors. In 2013, the two were competitors at the Cruiser Cup, contested in Brampton, Ontario, where Forest earned a bronze medal, the first in the history of Les Pirates.
Of note, Forest’s initial exposure to ice sledge hockey came via a book supplied by her mother. Leafing through the pages, not only was Forest presented with a new sporting opportunity, introducing her to a much larger world.
"My mother came back from work one day with a book on the Paralympic Games. She explained to me what the Paralympics were and she gave me the book. It was really interesting and I looked at it. But when I saw the page that talked about sledge hockey, it instantly captured my attention.
So I went on internet to get more information on that sport and I found a team that held practices in my town. So I contacted the coach and he told me a date that I could come to their practice. Since this day, I have been involved with sledge hockey.”
As one of six new faces on the Canadian national women’s ice sledge hockey team for the 2015-16 season, Forest is joined by three other players from Quebec, helping make the transition to a higher level of play much more enjoyable. Among them are Myriam Adam, a former gold medalist in hand cycle at the 2011 Parapan American Games from Chicoutimi, Veronique Major, an active swimmer from Quebec City and Saint-Jerome resident Vanessa Racine, one of the national team’s veterans.
The chance to make the national team also reflects an opportunity to make good on a promise that she made to one of the biggest role models in her hockey career, fellow Montreal-area ice sledge hockey goalie Benoit St. Amand. Having played for Canada in three Paralympic Games (claiming gold in 2006 and bronze in 2014), Forest had the opportunity to meet St. Amand and promised him that she would work very hard for a chance to one day play for Team Canada herself.
Taking into account that she also had the chance to suit up for the Quebec provincial female team that competed at the fifth Challenge Hivernal Adaptavie in February 2015, Forest is definitely a star on the rise in the ice sledge hockey community.
“To me, making the national team means that everything is possible. I have always wanted to play hockey and especially for Team Canada, but it was impossible for me because I have a handicap. When I discovered this amazing sport, which is sledge hockey, and there is a national team, my dream became a little bit more realistic. Now, my biggest dream came true.”
While Forest is eager for the chance to gain playing time as the Canadian national team host the rival United States from November 6-8 in Brampton, Ontario, the chance to gather for the team’s camp in Leduc, Alberta was an enjoyable time. After a demanding training camp that took place in Stittsville, Ontario to determine the 2015-16 season, Leduc was a welcome reprieve, allowing Forest and her new teammates the chance to know each other and build towards the eighth season in program history.
“I really enjoyed chemistry among everybody in the team that made the team so united. I already felt part of a new family 5 minutes after my arrival.”
During Forest’s flourishing career, elements such as winning and losing do not define her involvement in the game. By her definition, the favorite moment that comes with mounting the sled involves sportsmanship. A post-game congratulatory moment as a member of Les Pirates carries much stronger meaning than the game’s result. Considering the way the sport has positively shaped Forest’s self-esteem and confidence, making new friends in the process, it represents the true victory in the potential that ice sledge hockey brings to its competitors.
“My favorite moment in the game is the moment when everybody comes and joins me in front of the net at the end of a game to celebrate our good job …even if we lose!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”