Steve Arsenault has been a reliable member of Canada’s National Sledge Team blue-line corps since 2010. The quintessential stay-at-home defenceman has 11
points in 93 games to his name. A shutdown specialist, he had the second-most ice time at the 2014 Paralympic Games and was never on the ice for a goal
Brad Bowden has been a constant force up front for the team since 1999. With 287 points in 188 games, he’s the team’s No. 2 all-time scorer. He scored the
gold-medal-winning goal at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games and was named Most Valuable Player four years later in Vancouver.
This season the two have essentially flipped roles. Arsenault is now a forward; Bowden a defenceman.
“I was a little bit nervous [about the change] because I always saw it as a pretty high-pressure position,” says Bowden. “You goof up at the blue-line it
could be a goal or a breakaway.” But he also saw the positives, which included a bit more ice time and working with a different group of players. “I feel
like I’m a part of this new club – the guys who go and battle down by the boards and help break out the puck. It’s a whole new world for me.”
Each player thrived in his old position because of his unique skill set, but it was those very qualities that had the coaches thinking a shake-up would
reinvigorate a team looking to up its tempo of play.
“They are two fast players and yet they’re different: one’s more physical and the other more of a puck-handler,” says Ken Babey, head coach of Canada’s
National Sledge Team.
Arsenault adds aggressiveness to the fore-check; Bowden, with his great passing skills, can lead quicker breakouts.
“The great thing with these two players is if it doesn’t work you can put them back to their old positions and you’re not losing anything,” says Babey.
The switch-up has awoken something in both. Arsenault has always put in the work when it comes to training, but he’s embracing the grind even more now.
“I like getting on the ice every day and working on things that normally as a defenceman I wouldn’t spend as much time on, in the offensive zone shooting
and maybe deking, where before I’d work on point shots,” says Arsenault, who in his first go-round with the team, in 2005, played forward. “It’s fun to
change up that routine.”
“You always have something to prove playing on Team Canada,” adds Bowden. “You always have to prove you’re the best and that you can compete every year.
Now I have to show them I can learn a new skill as far as strategy goes. It’s got me on top of things a bit more.”
Both know the change is not about what they didn’t do before; it’s about them possessing attributes that allow the team to adapt. For the good of the team,
both will try anything.
“I think it will throw other teams off a little bit, too,” says Bowden. “They’re so used to seeing me up front and now they have to worry about a new line
full of talent plus another threat at the back. I’m going to make sure I’m a threat from back there.”
Both players took to their roles quickly. They tried them out at the team’s development camp in August, then played their new positions at selection camp
in September to make the team for the season.
At this week’s 2016 World Sledge Hockey Challenge, Arsenault is on a line with Tyler McGregor and Ben Delaney.
“Playing with some of the best players in the world is a challenge because I don’t want to hurt them offensively,” says Arsenault. “They’ve been helping me
adapt to the systems and tweaking things that I can do better to help them get even better. I’m not gifted with their kind of talent, but I have a good
work ethic. I’m counting on that to pay off.”
Arsenault has also exchanged tips with Bowden. “I’m happy to see him as a defenceman. I think he’s going to get a lot more offensive opportunities than he
Bowden suspects as much as well.
“I’m probably going to have a hard time not shooting every puck from the blue-line,” says Bowden, who’s paired with Adam Dixon. “You got a lot of space up
That’s been the biggest adjustment for the long-time forward: the room and vision afforded him up high in the zone. He’s excited about what he can create
offensively seeing so many options laid out in front of him.
“I remember when I was young I’d look back at the blue-line and see some pretty good people back there taking care of things,” he says. “I felt confident
to just play as a forward and see what I could do. Hopefully I help take some of the pressure off the new guys knowing that they got someone like me and
Adam back there watching out for them.”
Babey has noticed new energy – and urgency – up and down the line-up. Everyone realizes that anything can happen if a new idea arises. “It’s kind of
motivation, but also guys are excited by the change of these two veteran players because they kind of rejuvenate each other.”
One thing you’re aren’t likely to see, though, is either player trying his hand at a third position.
“I will never be a goalie. Ever,” says Bowden. “I am not crazy enough to be a goalie.”