When Maxime Gagnon was approached by a local Montreal club over a decade
ago about including para hockey in the Défi sportif AlterGo, he didn’t know
anything about the sport. Now, he is one of the biggest advocates of para
hockey in Quebec and across the country.
Curious about the sport, Gagnon joined the 11-player club at a tournament
in London, Ont., as a coach, since the small team didn’t have one. His
introduction to the sport was also his first day he began working with the
program in Montreal.
After his time on the bench, he wanted to learn as much about the team as
possible. What is the yearly plan? Are there recruitment efforts to get
more players? But the players with the small club team said all they did
was play the game they loved. Next, he approached Parasports Quebec, but at
that point, there wasn’t anyone dedicated towards para hockey.
“At this time, I saw the opportunity,” says Gagnon, who is the director of
the Défi sportif AlterGo. “And I said, ‘Let’s go jump [into this].’”
His first call was to the City of Montreal to inquire about ice times for
“They offered us ice time at 8 p.m., so that was good for the guys I had at
the time because at the beginning, they played Sunday morning at 5:30
a.m.,” Gagnon says.
Initially, he worked collaboratively with Parasports Quebec and found a
club in Laval with more players, but after a few years, Gagnon decided to
approach Hockey Quebec.
“The general manager that was there is a good friend of mine, and I said,
‘Why are you not involved with para hockey?’ He said, ‘I don’t know what it
is.’ So, we start with him and Hockey Quebec is now the only province that
gets 100 per cent involved in para hockey.”
This is the 13th season Gagnon has been involved with para hockey, and
there are now about 150 para hockey players across Quebec. The players
compete in a five-team league, which is expected to grow to potentially
seven teams by next season. In addition to Gagnon’s work with Parahockey
Montreal, he is also the head coach of Quebec’s provincial team.
The recruitment of new players is a large reason behind the sport’s growth
in the province. When making the league schedule, Gagnon tries to limit
crossover with other para sport practices to encourage multi-sport
athletes. The league has grown its social media presence over the past few
Gagnon also has connections with Quebec hospitals and rehab centres to
introduce the sport to people who have had life-changing accidents.
“When you are in the hospital or a rehab centre, sometimes you’re the only
one who has lost a leg,” he says, adding that seeing para hockey players
who have lost their legs for different reasons can help recent amputees
adapt to their new lifestyle.
Jonathan Daigle from Boucherville, Que., is a single-leg amputee who
started playing para hockey when he was eight years old.
“My mom was looking for a sport for me because since I have a handicap,
there was not a lot of sports I could do,” Daigle says. “She was looking
for an adaptive sport and she found para hockey.”
Now 14, Daigle has been playing para hockey for six years. With Gagnon’s
coaching, he has made huge strides in his development and was a member of
Quebec’s provincial team when it won the national championship last May.
“He’s really invested into it,” Daigle says of Gagnon. “He is always busy
inviting young people, creating events to recruit young people. And when he
sees potential in a young player, he will do everything to make sure you
can develop the right way.”
That development at the provincial level has paid off. There are eight
Quebec players on Canada’s National Para Hockey Team this season. Daigle
will be practicing with Team Canada as a participant in the team’s NextGen
development camp taking place this weekend in Montreal.
“Since I was a young kid, it’s been my dream to be a part of the national
team,” Daigle says. “This is a step closer to my dream and I think it’s
going to be fun and lots of experience for me. I’m just going to do my
For Gagnon, communication is key to help grow the sport in other provinces
across the country. He organized the first Zoom call between Member
representatives this month to share ideas and challenges together.
“This year, we’ve got for the first time seven provinces at the national
championship,” Gagnon explains. “I talk with every province one by one, I
put some time and energy, and in my mind, it is important to do some sport,
“I love the sport and I want to be involved for a long time,” he adds. “I
don’t do that for money. I do that for the passion of the sport and the
passion of the game.”
As the top level of para hockey grows across the country, Gagnon is looking
to grow the sport among women and at the U16 junior level. For a young
player like Daigle, it’s an encouraging sign of what’s to come.
“The future is very bright,” Daigle says. “[After we train on] Saturday
morning, there’s the juniors. There’s a lot of new players that often
arrive and there’s a lot of juniors that are really invested.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more Quebecois [playing on the national
team]. We have a lot of talents in the future.”