Can Canada go three-for-three in Sochi?
The national sledge hockey team is heading to the Paralympics trying to replicate what the men’s and women’s hockey teams did at the Olympics. The pressure is on for triple gold in hockey, said Greg Westlake, captain of Canada’s sledge team.
“Absolutely I feel the passion that Canadians have for hockey because I had it and I still have it to this day.”
Canada finished out of the medals at the last Paralympics on home ice in Vancouver — a disappointment that Westlake says he will never get over. “That’s always going to be a bit of a black mark for me. You just gotta move on.”
Westlake has been the face of the sledge team for the past quadrennial, making several speaking appearances, and talking to the media about the sport and the remarkable people involved.
He speaks proudly of the cancer survivors and war veterans who are suiting up for Canada — further inspiring the team.
Team USA hopes to defend gold
The national sledge team falls under the umbrella of Hockey Canada and has some prominent support from NHLers who played in Sochi. “I got a phone call from Shea Weber and Patrice Bergeron,” Westlake said.
“They were giving me some advice. Just telling me to go leave it all out and have no regrets, which is simple advice. But sometimes when you get to the Games, it’s so easy to get caught up…in all the hoopla around you.”
Aside from a blip at the Vancouver Paralympics, Canada has fared well in international sledge hockey competition. Team Canada is the reigning world champion in sledge hockey, taking the gold in 2013. They also won gold at the 2006 Turin Games and four world sledge challenge titles from 2007 to 2011.
The United States, who finished second to Canada at last year’s worlds, will likely be the biggest obstacle in Sochi. The Americans are also the defending Paralympic gold medallists.
"I'm really looking forward to being able to hopefully that gold title that the guys worked so hard for back in 2010," John Sweeney, Team USA's forward and backup captain, told PBS in a documentary about their team.
"One of the keys to our success over the past, and will be this year and into the future, is our youth and our speed," Team USA Coach Jeff Sauer told PBS. "We have great quickness; we have the most double amps of any team in the world, and the double amps have more flexibility, more creativity, are able to turn quicker and so forth, and that's a real positive for us.
"We're also one of the youngest teams in relation to condition and that type of thing, so hopefully that will work to our advantage, as well."
Team Canada opens the Sochi tournament against Sweden on March 8.
“Yeah there’s always unfinished business. I’m not happy with how Vancouver turned out and I never will be,” Westlake said.
“We have a lot of guys who weren’t on the team in Vancouver. So it’s not really fair to blame them for a loss that they weren’t a part of in Vancouver.”