The World Sledge Hockey Challenge in December 2012 stands out as a momentous event in Auren Halbert’s young life.
Witnessing Canadian para hockey stars such as Billy Bridges, Greg Westlake and Tyler McGregor display their electrifying skill at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary, Alta. fueled the then-10-year-old’s desire to work hard so he could don a Team Canada jersey himself one day.
In an interview at that event with The Calgary Journal, the Calgary Venom para hockey player declared he would contend for a spot on the national team in five years.
Halbert, now 16, realized his goal in just over six years. After debuting with the national team in a two-game series against the U.S. this past March in Indian Trail N.C, he is sharing the ice with his heroes again at the 2019 National Para Hockey Team Selection Camp in Calgary.
“It’s wild,” says Halbert. “Just today, I was looking at a picture of Billy Bridges and myself from back then, and now I’m on the same ice with my idol.”
Halbert, who was born in Calgary, is taking advantage of this time with his celebrated teammates by asking for advice and listening to their stories.
“It is just really awesome to learn from them and to see where they had come from 10 or even 20 years ago when they started sledge hockey. Their hockey IQ is crazy, and I respect that they want to pass down that knowledge to me.”
Several days into camp, Halbert is displaying that he has the potential to forge a long competitive career akin to his idols.
In his first exhibition game against Japan on Monday, Halbert netted a goal and manufactured several other high-danger scoring chances with his passing ability and blinding speed.
Steve Arsenault, a former member of the Canadian national team, pinpoints speed as the hallmark aspect of Halbert’s game.
“He is ridiculously fast,” enthuses Arsenault, who served as Halbert’s head coach with Alberta Sledge last season. “He’s probably the fastest skater on the provincial team, and he skates a lot like Liam Hickey, who is probably the fastest player on the national team.”
Arsenault first encountered Halbert at an on-ice session in Calgary back in 2007 or 2008, when the latter was just five or six years old. They have crossed paths a few times over the years - one of those instances was the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge - before their coach-player relationship got established.
The two-time Paralympic medalist says he appreciates getting to know and work with the “quiet, professional and highly coachable” Halbert over the past couple of years.
“He has a very bright future ahead of him. He is a phenomenal hockey player already, and I look forward to seeing what this season brings at the national level if he makes it.”
Following the camp, Halbert will be returning home to Pittsburgh P.A. to complete another season with the Mighty Penguins sled hockey program. Arsenault states that playing for this club is ideal for Halbert’s development because of how many games he gets to play.
Halbert states that he wants to evolve his craft to the point that he secures a spot on the national team “within the next year.” He says he is hoping to earn the opportunity to play some more games with the team to “show [the coaches] how hard he can work.”
His goal for the next three years is earning an invitation to compete for Canada at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing, China.