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© John Sison

A picture and a puck

A picture hanging on Branden Sison’s wall is a constant reminder of the challenges he has overcome on the way to reaching his dreams

Lee Boyadjian
|
May 29, 2021

Hanging on the wall of the Sison family home in Edmonton are a picture and a puck; symbols of a dream the family only started sharing a few years ago, when eldest son Branden tried para hockey for the first time.

“It was basically love at first sight because the feeling of skating … [para] hockey skating, allowed me to have more control,” the 21-year-old says.

Sison was born without a fibula in his right leg (fibular hemimelia), resulting in an amputation below the knee. He grew up using a prosthetic and never let it slow him down when playing sports with friends; at least, not intentionally.

“I remember when I was playing, there would be times where my prosthetic leg would malfunction because the foot would be on a pivot access and sometimes the screw would get loose,” Sison says, laughing at the memory. “My foot would be doing 360s while I would be running so that would be a little bit of an embarrassing situation.”

John Sison was working a night shift as a paramedic the first time his son tried para hockey, but said it quickly became the talk of the house. The family even traveled to Leduc, Alta., to watch the 2016 national championship.

“That’s when he first saw national competition and the intensity that was involved,” John recalls. “When he saw that, it became his goal. He has a very narrow vision of trying to achieve what he sets out to achieve.”

Later that same year, at just 16 years old, Sison was invited to Canada’s National Para Hockey Team selection camp. Though he didn’t make the cut, staff saw plenty of potential and asked Sison to keep working with them, which lead to a development camp in Montreal and a series against the United States.

This time, John was in the stands, with his camera at the ready.

“[Branden] more or less managed to get the puck mid-ice and get a breakaway and I was just looking through that lens and I was just hoping that he was able to get that goal,” an emotional John remembers with a smile.

Gesturing to his own face, he adds, “I’m just recalling his face and how it lit up.

“Just for him to experience that moment and know that he managed to achieve what he wanted and for me, that’s all I needed.”

Sison though, says he needs more. Now in his second season with Team Canada, the defenceman is focused on the upcoming IPC World Para Hockey Championship and 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. His goal, and that of the team, he says, is to not only medal at both events, but win them.

“We are putting it all out there for each other and the team because we know that we have a really good chance to win worlds and the Paralympics coming up, so we just want to work really hard for each other because we like to keep each other accountable,” Sison says.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing travel restrictions and making camps difficult, most team activities went virtual. They had meetings at least twice a week but needed to train on their own. Despite the challenges, Sison says this is the best he has ever felt physically, and the team is closer than ever.

“We’ve honestly become the most well-knit family that I’ve ever been a part of as a hockey team and it’s kind of crazy because we honestly haven’t seen each other for four, five, six months,” he says.

When thinking about the next few months for his son, John is anxious to see what unfolds. But he is also quick to reflect on everything Branden has already achieved, pointing to the photo as evidence.

“For me, that was the goal that I wanted him to achieve,” John says. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to be successful.”

Though he isn’t focused on personal success, Sison says in the short term, a continued place on the national team is his motivation. But when thinking long term, the young blueliner is more reflective.

“I hope to inspire the next generation of para hockey players, I think that’s what I aim to do the most,” he says. “Regardless of who I am or the identity of my background, I think just playing my heart out, putting in effort and just showing my love for the game is what is going to attract people to it most.”

Host locations selected for 2024 fall events

Ontario to host U17 World Challenge, Atlantic Canada to welcome U18 Women’s National Championship and Para Cup

NR.037.24
|
May 28, 2024

CALGARY, Alberta – Hockey Canada has announced the host communities for three of its fall events: the 2024 U17 World Challenge, 2024 U18 Women’s National Championship and 2024 Para Cup.

“These events play a critical role in the development of men’s, women’s and para hockey athletes, coaches, officials and staff, and we are thrilled to be bringing them to communities in Ontario, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island,” said Pat McLaughlin, chief operating officer and executive vice-president of strategy. “They are an excellent opportunity to create lifelong memories and leave a legacy in each community for years to come.”

The 2024 U17 World Challenge will be played Nov. 1-9 in Sarnia, Ontario. It is the seventh time Ontario will play host to the tournament, and the second time in Sarnia, following 2014.

The 2024 U18 Women’s National Championship will run Nov. 3-9 in Quispamsis, New Brunswick, bringing the event – and the future stars of the women’s game – to Atlantic Canada for the first time.

Canada’s National Para Hockey Team, which won a home-ice gold medal at the 2024 World Para Hockey Championship earlier this month, will compete against three countries at the 2024 Para Cup, which will be held Dec. 8-14 in Charlottetown, P.E.I. It is the fifth time the tournament will be held in the Birthplace of Confederation and coincides with the 50th anniversary of ParaSport & Recreation PEI.

Fans can sign up now to receive ticket information or become a Hockey Canada Insider and receive advanced access to tickets and other promotions.

“These tournaments are often once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for participants, families and fans,” said Dean McIntosh, vice-president of strategic partnerships and community impact. “I’m confident in the host committees in these three great hockey markets and know we are set up for success with the passionate hockey fans and volunteers in each community.”

In the spring, Canada’s U18 Women’s National Club Championship will be decided at the 2025 Esso Cup, April 20-26 in Lloydminster, Alberta , while the U18 Men’s National Club Championship will be up for grabs April 21-27 at the 2025 TELUS Cup in Chilliwack, B.C.

The host communities for the 2025 Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons, and 2024 Junior A World Challenge will be announced at a later date.

To learn more about Hockey Canada, please visit HockeyCanada.ca , or follow along through social media on Facebook , X and Instagram .

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Embracing a new life through hockey

Bridget Vales had never heard of hockey until she moved from the Philippines to Saskatchewan; now she can’t get enough of Canada’s game

Katie Brickman
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May 24, 2024

Bridget Vales got her first taste of hockey when she went to her stepbrother’s practice shortly after she moved from the Philippines to White City, Saskatchewan, when she was eight years old, and pretty quickly she was interested in trying it out herself.

That first experience didn’t go as expected.

“It was tough,” Bridget, now 14, says. “It was embarrassing for me [at the beginning] because when I went to the tryouts, I didn’t know how to skate. I cried at the rink because everyone was better than me.”

In the end, she made the team and got better every game. The next season, when she was nine years old, she made the ‘B’ team with the Prairie Storm Minor Hockey Association and worked hard to improve her skating and skills.

“I felt happy with how much I improved in hockey,” she says. “But the transition was difficult.”

Bridget comes by the passion of the game naturally. Her mom, Reynilda Vales, quickly fell in love with hockey after moving to Canada from the Philippines on a work visa as a midwife in April 2015. She couldn’t bring any family members at that time, but after two years, she got her Canadian permanent residency and was able to bring Bridget to Regina in 2018. Her employer at the time introduced her to hockey and the love affair began.

“It was my plan to put Bridget in hockey. I am crazy about hockey. I am loud with my intense cheering … I am crazy at the rink,” Reynilda says. “Being from the Philippines, it’s very warm, but when the kids are playing hockey, I don’t care about the cold.”

Growing up in the Philippines, Bridget focused on school and didn’t play any sports. Since moving to Canada, she has embraced her athletic side and participates in hockey, baseball, lacrosse, badminton, volleyball and track. Hockey, though, is her favourite.

“I love to play games and meet new teammates. My favourite part is skating and hitting,” she says. “Hockey is my favourite sport because it just gives me so much joy and excitement. I just love playing it because it’s such a fun sport.”

Hockey is just one of the ways Bridget came to better understand life in Canada. Not only is she able to meet new people and create friendships, but it has also helped her transition to a new life with a different culture, climate, food, language and school.

“I’m glad Canadians love to play hockey. It’s fun learning about hockey because it’s a fun sport to play and watch,” she says. “I feel accepted because I’m in a sport and hockey has been able to give me a team where you feel like you are a part of something bigger.”

Reynilda has been an influence for Bridget in life – helping her navigate coming to a new city and new country, and setting up a new life.

“It’s easy for me to guide my daughter because I came here first and I encountered the same feedback about our culture,” says Reynilda. “Hockey is a part of our lives now. It keeps us busy, and it helps us to focus on the kids’ well-being. It’s just our day-to-day life now.”

It’s not easy making a major life change and moving to another country, but hockey has been valuable in making things easier. The comments Reynilda gets now, it shows how much Bridget has grown.

“The parents now ask if Bridget grew up here because of the way she skates … she doesn’t look like she just started playing hockey,” says Reynilda. “The progress has been unbelievable. I think it’s because hockey is in her heart. She loves it.”

Reynilda and Bridget have fully embraced the Canadian way of life – from learning to ice fish to hockey – but they also share their culture with others.

“I used to be embarrassed because I was different, but now when people find out I’m Filipino, they are interested in finding out more about me and my culture; they want to know my language,” Bridget says. “That makes me happy to share who I am. Hockey has made me feel like everyone else and I feel at home.”

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In my own words: Dampy Brar

The coach, mentor, teacher and Willie O’Ree Community Award winner talks about his journey in the game, and the importance of making an impact with the South Asian community

Dampy Brar
|
May 17, 2024

For countless generations, my family lived in Punjab, India. They were honest, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people. Each generation took over the farming and continued the family traditions and lifestyle.

My dad had a different dream for himself and for his future family. A dream to come to Canada and start a new life with new opportunities. But he never imagined that his Canadian dream would include hockey.

At the age of four, I vividly remember sitting on the front step of our townhouse in Sparwood, B.C., the town I was born in, watching a group of older boys play street hockey. I was instantly intrigued. My dad recognized my interest and bought me a plastic hockey stick with a pink blade, yellow shaft and a black rubber knob, which also came with two plastic pucks. I would play non-stop in our undeveloped basement, shooting into a milk crate.

As the hockey season approached, we were fortunate enough to have older East Indian family friends whose boys played minor hockey in Sparwood, so my dad registered me. There was only one problem – I had never been on skates.

I was incredibly lucky to have a great skating instructor; his name was Tander Sandhu, and he was 11 years old. He says it took me 15 minutes in an old pair of his skates that weren’t even my size to start skating on my own. By the age of eight, I was moved up to play with the older kids after scoring 21 goals in two games.

I kept scoring several goals per game, and then early in the season when I was 11 years old, they implemented a rule that players could only score three goals in a game. Even though I was a playmaker and had a lot of assists, it was pretty well-known that this rule was created because of me. In hindsight, it made me an even better passer; however, my family always wonders if that rule was not implemented how much more attention and exposure would I have received in the hockey community.

I was born in Canada, and simply loved the game. I saw all my teammates and their families in the same manner, but not everyone looked at me as an equal. As a kid, perhaps I was oblivious to the looks and comments. The racism piece really came to light when I was eight. After my third goal, a player on the opposing team, who was from a nearby town, yelled something at me several times while I was taking the face-off against him. A word that started with the letter P, but I couldn’t fully understand what he was saying.

After scoring two more goals, he continued yelling the same word at me over and over again. I can still see what he was wearing, his facial expressions and his anger. I remember feeling scared. I didn’t know what I did wrong, and why he was so upset with me. My teammate told me he was saying something really bad about me. Something about how I look. The taunting continued, but I managed to focus on playing the game and having fun. After finishing the game with 13 goals, he shook my hand and said the word ‘Paki’ yet again, right to my face.

All weekend the incident rolled through my mind. On Monday morning at recess, I asked my older East Indian friend, who also played hockey, what ‘Paki’ meant. He explained that is what they call us in a negative way to make fun of us. It was a name assigned to me because of the colour of my skin.

I got used to hearing it over the years. However, the worst had to be hearing from a parent when I was 15 years old. Just before the game started, with the arena pretty quiet, the father of the opposing goaltender yelled to his son, “Don’t let that f*cking Paki score!” and then looked straight at me with glaring eyes.

Towards the end of that season, we went to a small town in Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta. It was a Friday night game, and a bunch of teenagers came to cheer on their home team. Instead of watching the game, they stood away from the parents and threw constant racial slurs at me while making inappropriate gestures.

I have never repeated what they said. But if we want to invoke change, we need to be honest with what was said and done. They were saying things like, “Go back home, Paki,” or “Put curry on the puck, it will slide better,” or “Where is the red dot on your forehead?” Any time I took a face-off in front of them, or simply skated past them, they banged their hands on the glass and tried to scare and intimate me.

We won 6-4 that night. My parents were so happy on the car ride home, as they thought I played well; however, I was quiet and numb. When I got home, I had tears in my eyes and asked my parents, “Who cares about the game, did you not see what was happening?” They told me that if I wanted to be an elite player and represent our culture, it was something I would need to endure. My dad then told me some stories of the racism he had gone through on the streets and in the workforce. He wanted to shield me from it, but sadly he could not.

It was then that I really started to envision that one day I would use hockey to earn respect, and then turn around and help other South Asian players and their families.

I had the goal of playing professional hockey, but as we all know, the path to get there is extremely complicated. With immigrant parents, no mentors and no internet, navigating the hockey system was very difficult. Some how, some way, I made it through Junior B to Junior A and to Concordia University College in Edmonton. But I started to doubt that college hockey was the right decision to get me to my goal.

After a few games, an ex-NHL coach turned agent named Bill Laforge Sr. came to watch us play. He was gracious enough to take me under his wing and send me on my way to play pro hockey in the United States.

In my seven-year career, I played five seasons with the Tacoma Sabercats in the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL), where I had two stand-out coaches: three years with John Olver and two with Robert Dirk, who I coach with now at the Okanagan Hockey Academy.

During this time, I really grew not only as a hockey player, but as a person. I learned the importance of community work and giving back. The city showed me a lot of love in return, which overshadowed any discrimination. I won the WCHL championship with the Sabercats in 1999, played in the WCHL All-Star Game and was voted Most Popular Player by the fans in all five of my seasons.

A few other milestones were getting called up to play in the International Hockey League (IHL) with the Las Vegas Thunder, and the following year, signing a two-way contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League (AHL), an affiliate of my favourite team, the Edmonton Oilers.

I hung up my skates at the end of the 2002-03 season and knew I had to fulfil my other goal of paying it forward and giving back.

When my now-16-year-old son started playing Timbits, I got involved in assisting, educating, mentoring and coaching our South Asian youth and their families. A few years later, I delved deeper into women’s hockey when my daughter started playing. I was lucky enough to help take this internationally when a women’s team from Leh Ladakh, India, came to Canada for the first time to participate in WickFest, run by Team Canada icon Hayley Wickenheiser.

In the end, my passion for the game comes back to providing support and guidance to South Asian and other ethnic players, connecting the community, highlighting players and parents, and spreading information.

It was through my work with the South Asian community that I was honoured in 2020 to receive the Willie O’Ree Community Award, becoming the first South Asian to win an NHL award, which really drove me to continue to make an impact in the diversity and inclusion component of the game.

Already, we see a number of NHL teams recognize the contributions of the South Asian community by holding a South Asian Heritage Night. I have had the privilege of being part of the Honour Guard or dropping the puck for the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

Change is slow, but where there is a will, there is a way. Together we will help improve hockey culture and grow the game we all love. Just like in my hockey journey from the age of four to when I played my last professional game, perseverance and resilience are important factors.

Any road to success will always be under construction.

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Brian’s life behind the bench

Brian Sugiyama has spent the last three decades coaching his kids, his grandkids, other people’s kids, and even other coaches who – much like he does – just want to make the game better

Chris Jurewicz
|
May 13, 2024

When you spend decades doing something you love, you evolve.

Brian Sugiyama has been behind the bench, in the dressing room and on the ice helping kids and young adults become better hockey players and people for the past 30 years.

The 72-year-old Nanaimo, B.C., resident maybe hasn’t seen it all, but he has seen quite a bit, more than most, and has a good sense of what it takes to be a great hockey coach.

“When I first started doing the coaching development stuff, I thought it was more the technical and science of coaching,” says Sugiyama. “Now, I think it’s more the art of coaching, that you’re working with young men and women, sometimes they just graduated from playing minor hockey themselves, sometimes they’re parents. They all seem to think it’s about the Xs and Os and the practices, where I think it’s really more the psychology of coaching, working on childhood development, how kids get along and that you have developed within your team that bonding and that whole area of respect within your teams, respect for your opponents and others involved in the game, like the officials.”

Sugiyama is a member of Hockey Canada’s Coaching Program Delivery Group. He is district coach coordinator for Vancouver Island and clinic facilitator for Coach 1, Coach 2 and Development 1 programs within the National Coach Certification Program, teaching hundreds of new and experienced coaches each year. He is also a High Performance 1 coach mentor and Development 1 coach field evaluator.

To attain those credentials requires time, dedication, experience, patience and an incredibly strong and thorough knowledge of Canada’s game.

Sugiyama has all of those traits.

His journey began, as so many Canadian hockey stories do, on backyard and outdoor rinks. Sugiyama was born and raised in Edmonton and got his start outside when his father built a backyard rink.

As his love of the game grew, so did his skill and commitment. Sugiyama played competitively with the Maple Leaf Athletic Club through his teenage years. He got his start in coaching when he helped out with his younger brother’s team. And then, in the early 1980s, Sugiyama did what so many dads do – get involved in coaching with his own’s son’s team. He and wife Karen have four children and all of them grew up playing hockey.

“I started coaching local recreational divisions at the younger age groups and then you get into wanting to be better as a coach, and you start taking some courses,” says Sugiyama. “I coached a competitive U11 team and you encounter the good, bad and whatever. I still got a lot from it. I thought I could contribute to not only my kids’ development, but other kids as well.”

Later in life, the family moved to Vancouver, where they still reside. And the Sugiyama name is perhaps just as well known in Nanaimo as it is in Edmonton, given the years of service and dedication to hockey given by Brian and the rest of the family.

TJ Fisher helped coach a U15 co-ed recreational team during the 2023-24 season with Brian, one that included one of Sugiyama’s granddaughters and one of Fisher’s kids.

“It’s so neat to see a grandpa coaching grandkids. You never see that,” says Fisher. “It’s one of those things for people my age, it’s like the life goal where you have to keep on evolving with the next generation. He stays current and is totally relatable. He’s really up on technology to be able to be current to both teach his clinics and to stay current with the kids on the team.”

Erin Wilson has also been inspired by Sugiyama. Wilson and Sugiyama coached together during the 2021-22 season and have known one another for close to three decades.

“As both a parent and coach, I really value Brian's focus on fair play and sportsmanship,” says Wilson. “His encouragement of every player to be a contributing part of the team is so valuable and important for individual character development, self-worth and team play. This focus on fair play and sportsmanship is something I try and replicate and is a strong value and focus I believe in when I am coaching a team.”

Sugiyama has been on the bench of competitive and recreational teams and believes there is a gap that will need to be filled on the rec side. Often, there are plenty of moms and dads who want to help out with competitive teams, but a shortage of coaches who want to pitch in on the recreational side.

His impact hasn’t just been felt by regular Canadian moms and dads, though. In recent years, Sugiyama has facilitated and led courses attended by some well-known retired former NHLers who want to give back and coach.

“This last season, I’ve had people like Andrew Ladd and Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith take the courses,” says Sugiyama. “They’re coming back and imparting their knowledge back to a hockey academy or a team in their community. They come back supportive of what Hockey Canada is doing with the development of coaching.”

Sugiyama jokes with his course attendees that he’s “getting long in the tooth,” but continues his involvement and will as long as he can. That’s not only good news for kids on the ice, but the men and women who have a chance to learn from Sugiyama.

“It’s special to see that whole family,” says Fisher. “He’s still coaching, his kids are coaching, the grandkids are playing. It’s pretty awesome.”

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Canada vs. United States

Para Worlds Preview: Canada vs. United States

Sunday, May 12 | 5:30 p.m. MT | Calgary, Alberta | Gold Medal Game

Jason La Rose
|
May 12, 2024

This one’s for all the marbles. The 2024 World Para Hockey Championship comes to a close Sunday at WinSport Arena with an all-North American matchup for gold as Canada’s National Para Hockey Team takes on the United States.

Last Game

Canada survived a semifinal thriller, getting goals 84 seconds apart from Micah Kovacevich and Dominic Cozzolino early in the third period to earn a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over China on Friday night. Tyler McGregor added two assists for the Canadians.

The Americans had a nail-biter of their own in Friday’s first semifinal, getting the go-ahead goal from Malik Jones with 7:01 remaining to earn a 3-1 win over Czechia and a chance to defend their world title. Chris Douglas scored the other two goals for the U.S.

Last Meeting

The Canadians and Americans have met 10 times this season, most recently in the finale of a brief two-game series in Calgary in early April. Liam Hickey scored for Canada, but the Americans got a goal and an assist from Josh Misiewicz and the game-winner from Declan Farmer to leave the Canadians with a 4-1 defeat.

What to Watch

Adam Kingsmill continues to be an absolute workhorse for the Canadians this season; the Smithers, B.C., product has appeared in 17 of the 20 games played by Canada’s National Para Hockey Team this season and was terrific in the semifinals. After having faced just 11 shots across his first two starts, Kingsmill turned away 14 of 15 on Friday night, keeping the Canadians in the game as they looked to break through the Chinese defence and erase an early deficit. Not bad for a netminder who wasn’t part of the Canadian roster a year ago at Para Worlds and had just 10 international appearances on his résumé entering this season.

The American offence starts and ends with Farmer. The 26-year-old is once again at the top of the tournament scoring chart, posting 19 points (10-9—19) in four games, including a four-goal game in the Day 1 win over Slovakia and an eight-point effort in a win over China in the prelim finale. But the most important play the Tampa native has made all tournament long might not have come with the puck on his stick; with the U.S. clinging to a one-goal lead late in its semifinal with the Czechs, Farmer sprawled across the goal line to deny Czech captain Radek Zelinka and ensure he would have a shot at a fifth world championship.

A Look Back

The head-to-head history between the Canadians and Americans is very close, with the U.S. holding a narrow 66-59-1 advantage.

The Americans have had the upper hand as of late; the last win for Canada came back on Oct. 29, 2021, when Anton Jacobs-Webb scored the winner 13 seconds into the third period, helping the Canadians earn a 4-2 victory in the opener of a two-game series in the St. Louis suburbs.

It’s the seventh time the rivals will meet for Para Worlds gold, and the seventh in a row. Canada has won two of those finals, claiming a pair of world titles on Korean ice – 2013 in Goyang and 2017 in Gangneung.

All-time record: United States leads 66-59-1 (13-8 in OT/SO)
Canada goals: 243
United States goals: 278

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Canada wins gold at 2024 World Para Hockey Championship

Canadians capture first gold medal at Para Worlds since 2017

NR.033.24
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May 12, 2024

CALGARY, Alberta – Canada’s National Para Hockey Team has won gold at the World Para Hockey Championship for the first time since 2017, defeating the United States 2-1 in Sunday’s gold medal game at WinSport Arena.

Adam Kingsmill (Smithers, BC)
turned in a sensational performance in the Canadian goal, making 24 saves and earning Player of the Game honours.

The Canadians wasted no time in opening the scoring; Dominic Cozzolino (Mississauga, ON) tucked in his seventh goal of the tournament off a rebound from a Rob Armstrong (Erin, ON) shot just 35 seconds into the game, the lone goal of the first period.

“Scoring that early felt amazing. It was our plan to come out and get an early start, but it could have been any one of the guys in our locker room that scored, I was just in the right place at the right time,” Cozzolino said.We put a lot of pride in selling out to play good defence, and that win is a testament to every guy in on our team. This is an amazing feeling; it is what you dream of as a kid. This feels so good right now.”

Anton Jacobs-Webb (Gatineau, QC) doubled the Canadian lead off a behind-the-net feed from captain Tyler McGregor (Forest, ON) with 5:54 remaining in the second period for the eventual game-winning goal.

“I had the same mindset for every game. Our head coach Russ Herrington has brought us through with a strong mindset, so I think everyone on our team was able to play freely today,” Kingsmill said. “I did not see the puck very often because my teammates kept blocking shots. They made the game easy for me. I feel great, my whole family is here. I cannot help but smile. I do not have words to sum it all up right now, I think it will take a little while before I can do that.”

For a full game summary and recap, please visit HockeyCanada.ca.

“We needed to be ready for the day that things aligned for us – that is our responsibility. I have to credit our guys for showing patience and allowing the weight of the game to not become an impact on their performance,” said head coach Russ Herrington (Unionville, ON). “Props to the Calgary community for coming out tonight and spending Mother’s Day evening here cheering on Team Canada. I really felt like that energy helped us for sure, and you could certainly feel the pride from the crowd oozing into our bench and carried on the ice.”

Following the game, Cozzolino was named the Top Forward of the tournament.

Canada finished first in Group B with a perfect 3-0 record in the preliminary round with wins over Japan (19-0), Italy (10-0) and Czechia (5-1). Canada then booked its spot in the gold medal game with a 2-1 semifinal victory over China.

In 13 appearances, Canada has captured five gold medals at the World Para Hockey Championship (2000, 2008, 2013, 2017, 2024), in addition to four silver (2015, 2019, 2021, 2023) and three bronze (1996, 2009, 2012).

For more information on Hockey Canada and Canada’s National Para Hockey Team, please visit HockeyCanada.ca or follow through social media on FacebookX and Instagram.

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Canada vs. Sweden

Para Worlds Preview: Canada vs. China

Friday, May 10 | 5:30 p.m. MT | Calgary, Alberta | Semifinal

Jason La Rose
|
May 10, 2024

It’s on to the playoffs for Canada’s National Para Hockey Team, which takes on China in the second semifinal Friday at the 2024 World Para Hockey Championship.

Last Game

Canada closed out a perfect preliminary round with a 5-1 win over Czechia on Tuesday night. Tyler McGregor finished with a pair of goals – including the game-winner just 11 seconds into the second period – as did James Dunn. Liam Hickey added a goal and two assists, while Dominic Cozzolino had three helpers.

The Chinese finished out their prelim schedule with a 10-0 loss to the United States on Tuesday afternoon. After scoring 10 goals in each of their first two games to earn a semifinal spot, China managed just three shots against the Americans. Wei Wang finished with 20 saves in the Chinese goal.

Last Meeting

The Canadians and Chinese met for the first time ever at the 2023 Para Hockey Cup in Quispamsis, New Brunswick, last December. After scoring a 4-1 win in the tournament opener, Canada earned a 6-0 semifinal victory on the back of a McGregor hat trick and four assists from Cozzolino.

What to Watch

Auren Halbert has been terrific in front of the hometown fans in Calgary, contributing a goal and three assists in three prelim games. The 21-year-old also shares the team lead (alongside McGregor and Hickey) with a +15 mark. And while the Cozzolino-Hickey-McGregor triumvirate has posted a ridiculous 45 points (20-25—45) between them, the Canadians are getting contributions from up and down the lineup – eight of the nine forwards and all four defencemen averaged at least a point per game in the preliminary round.

While the offence dried up against the Americans, China was all over the scoresheet in shutout wins over Korea and Slovakia. And it was offence by committee – five players (Shen Yi Feng, Zhang Zheng, Zhu Zhan Fu, Tian Jin Tao, Li Hong Guan) posted at least five points in the two wins, while Song Xiao Dong scored a team-high five goals. In goal, Ji Yan Zhao was perfect between the pipes, turning aside all 13 shots he faced in the two wins.

A Look Back

Nothing to look back at that hasn’t already been mentioned above. Two games in Quispamsis, two wins for Canada.

All-time record: Canada leads 2-0
Canada goals: 10
China goals: 1

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A place to belong

Since 2011, the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association has been creating opportunities – and building Team Canada athletes like Auren Halbert along the way

Lee Boyadjian
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May 09, 2024

Smiles, laughter and pure joy. The first time getting on the ice for anyone who loves the game quickly becomes a core memory. But for Auren Halbert, it was so much more.

“It was the first time I'd ever had a competitive outlet, and to be among other people with similar disabilities, it was just incredible,” says the 22-year-old, who was born without a femur in his left leg.

Playing at the 2024 World Para Hockey Championship on home ice in Calgary is special for Auren. He played the preliminary round in front a sizeable contingent of family and friends, most with a direct connection to the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association (CSHA), the launching point of his career.

“We've had a great run of Team Canada men’s players that have come through our organization: Cody Dolan, Zach Lavin, Auren and Adam Kingsmill,” says Alan Halbert, president of the CSHA and proud dad to Auren. “But we're not here to build everybody into Team Canada players, we’re here to build people into the best versions of themselves.

“We just want to go out and have fun.”

The CSHA has had a presence in the Stampede City since the 1980s, but has grown from about 20 players to more than 80 since officially incorporating in 2011, with more than 20 coaches and volunteers giving support. There are programs for players of any age, skill and ability level.

Teams are divided by age and skill level, with players under 18 years old making up the junior team (Venom) before graduating to the intermediate team (Stingers), though high-performance athletes may transition through the levels more quickly. The senior team (Scorpions) is the highest level available and competes provincially or even nationally.

The senior team wasn’t always the powerhouse it has developed into, and a decade ago Alan had to learn the sport himself to help with the roster.

“At that time, I was naïve. I was like ‘Can I play? It’s kind of a disability sport.’ But now everybody is in there, it’s so inclusive,” he explains, adding that he has seen teams built as able-bodied friends and family support a loved-one with a disability.

“He started a couple years after I did and at first he was definitely a better player than I was,” Auren says of his dad with a laugh. “That definitely helped with my competitiveness; I just had to prove to my dad that I was a better player than he was.”

While there is no question the younger Halbert has become the stronger of the two, it is the dedication of Alan and his wife, Ashley, to the CSHA that has had a major impact on his own commitment to the game.

“It’s honestly unbelievable the amount of effort [my parents] have put into the organization,” Auren says. “It’s just super awesome to be able to have such good support in the city.

“It’s pretty inspiring to see how passionate [my parents] are about this.”

Alan has held just about every role within the association: athlete, coach, board member and treasurer. He took on the presidency in 2017 but shortly after was relocated to Pittsburgh for work. With no one else interested in the position, he remained at the helm, working remotely long before that was the norm. Seven years later, Alan is still president and continues to look for ways to grow the CSHA.

“We are kind of on the forefront of always trying to expand the sport, not only within Calgary, but we help a lot of the surrounding areas and provinces as well,” Alan explains. “We have a really great rapport with a lot of teams that we were playing as Auren was growing up, and they were just creating their programs… so they wanted to do something and we're there to help them or just to play.”

Auren also remains active with the CSHA, practicing and sometimes playing with the senior team. He also hopes to help with a summer camp this year “just to get out and teach people what I know.”

But first, the young defenceman has to close out his fifth season with Canada’s National Para Hockey Team with his fourth Para Worlds, in the same rink where he saw Team Canada play for the first time 13 years ago.

“In Auren’s first season, we kind of got going, hit the ground running and within a couple of months the World Sledge Hockey Challenge was [in Calgary],” Alan remembers. “I think he ended up on the ice as a flag-bearer, so got really exposed and that fueled his fire from a young age.

“It’s kind of come full circle.”

Auren knows this Para Worlds is his opportunity to create that same drive in a young athlete and bring new fans to the game. And while that motivates his play, he is eager to put on a show for the people who have supported him from the beginning.

“I think it'll be the first time a lot of my family have seen me play at this level, so it’s going to be pretty meaningful to be able to show them all I can do,” Auren says. “To have people I know in the stands and to know that they're all cheering for me and maybe hear a couple chants from them in the crowd… this will definitely be one of the greatest moments of all time for me.”

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Canada vs. Sweden

Para Worlds Preview: Canada vs. Czechia

Tuesday, May 7 | 5 p.m. MT | Calgary, Alberta | Preliminary Round

Jason La Rose
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May 07, 2024

First place in Group B is on the line Tuesday night when Canada’s National Para Hockey Team closes out the preliminary round against Czechia in a battle of unbeaten teams at the 2024 World Para Hockey Championship.

Last Game

Canada continued its offensive roll Sunday against Italy, reaching double digits for the second time in as many games in a 10-0 victory. Tyler McGregor led the charge with four goals and an assist, while Liam Hickey added two goals and four assists to take over the tournament scoring lead with 13 points (5-8—13) in two games.

The Czechs also made it two wins in as many tries Sunday, posting a 5-0 victory over Japan. Filip Vesely scored twice and added an assist, and Vaclav Hecko chipped in with a goal and a helper. Martin Kudela made eight saves for the shutout for the defending bronze medallists.

Last Meeting

Five months ago, the Canadians and Czechs clashed in preliminary-round play at the 2023 Para Hockey Cup in Quispamsis, New Brunswick. Dominic Cozzolino scored twice in the second period and Anton Jacobs-Webb rounded out the scoring in the third as Canada earned a 3-0 win.

What to Watch

He did get a lot of the headlines, but Tyrone Henry was in the spotlight Sunday night as he played his 100th game with Canada’s National Para Hockey Team. The Ottawa native has long been known for his stalwart defensive play, but he’s been all over the scoresheet through two games; after recording 17 assists across his first 98 games, he had six on the weekend in Calgary, including five in the opening win over Japan on Sautrday. The two-time Paralympian became the 14th player to reach the century mark with Team Canada.

Radek Zelinka leads from the back end for the Czechs; he was named Best Defenceman a year ago in Moose Jaw after scoring three goals to help the Czechs to bronze, and he has three assists through two games in Calgary. Kudela is a workhorse in the Czech goal; he played every second at the 2023 Para Worlds, and has been between the pipes for both games so far in 2024, turning aside 12 of 13 shots in wins over the Italians and Japanese.

A Look Back

Canada is perfect against the Czechs, winning all 16 of their meetings since 2009.

The biggest win came in the prelims at the 2021 Para Worlds on Czech ice in Ostrava, when Tyler McGregor and Zach Lavin contributed hat tricks to a 10-0 Canadian win. McGregor finished with five points in that one, while Billy Bridges chipped in with four assists.

All-time record: Canada leads 16-0
Canada goals: 63
Czechia goals: 4

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Canada vs. Sweden

Para Worlds Preview: Canada vs. Italy

Sunday, May 5 | 5 p.m. MT | Calgary, Alberta | Preliminary Round

Jason La Rose
|
May 05, 2024

Canada’s National Para Hockey Team is right back to action at the 2024 World Para Hockey Championship on Sunday, taking on Italy in the second of its three preliminary-round games at WinSport Arena.

Last Game

Canada flexed its offensive muscle in its tournament opener Saturday, scoring 10 goals in the first period en route to a 19-0 win over Japan. Dominic Cozzolino finished with four goals and four assists, and Adam Dixon, Liam Hickey and Tyler McGregor all had hat tricks for the Canadians, who had their most profilic offensive performance since coming under the Hockey Canada umbrella in 2004.

The Italians closed out Day 1 at WinSport Arena with a 4-1 loss to Czechia. Nils Larch scored the lone goal on a third-period power play, while Sandro Stillitano was terrific in a 28-save effort in the Italian goal.

Last Meeting

The Canadians and Italians last clashed in preliminary-round play at the 2022 Para Hockey Cup in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, an 8-0 win for Canada. James Dunn paced the offence with a hat trick and an assist, while Tyler McGregor netted a pair of goals as the Canadians racked up 48 shots on goal.

What to Watch

How about the top line? Cozzolino, Hickey and McGregor dominated the scoresheet against the Japanese, combining for 10 goals and 22 points – in addition to Cozzolino’s effort mentioned above, Hickey and McGregor each had a hat trick and three assists. Big numbers are nothing new for the trio – McGregor (11-10—21 in 16 GP) and Cozzolino (6-12—18 in 16 GP) were Canada’s top scorers this season, while Hickey (4-2—6 in 11 GP) found his game towards the end of the season after missing almost a year through injury.

Age is just a number for Stillitano. The goaltender – who will celebrate his 55th birthday next month – had another standout performance on the world stage in the opener against the Czechs. A year ago in Moose Jaw, the Italian puck-stopper was named Best Goaltender by the tournament directorate after posting a 2.11 goals-against average and a tournament-best .906 save percentage. The four-time Paralympian is playing in his 11th world championship.

A Look Back

Thirteen games, 13 wins for Canada in the head-to-head history, outscoring the Italians 87-3.

The last meeting at Para Worlds came back in 2017 in South Korea; Hickey and Billy Bridges recorded two goals and two assists in a 7-0 win for the Canadians, who ended that tournament by winning their fourth and most recent world title.

All-time record: Canada leads 13-0
Canada goals: 87
Italy goals: 3

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For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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