Local hockey fans receive a rare treat when Trail’s Mike Mondin and the national sledge hockey team roll into the Silver City next month to hold its final selection camp for Team Canada.
Mondin is in his third year of coaching the national team and is thrilled with the opportunity to have the team train in his hometown.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” said Mondin. “I know a lot of them that were here the last time are excited about the Colander and the Colombo Lodge and the warm Italian hospitality that you get around Trail.”
Team Canada’s sledge hockey team last trained at the Cominco Arena just prior to the Vancouver Paralympic Games in 2010, and will return to Trail Oct. 20-27 for the team’s selection camp.
“One of the reasons Hockey Canada has done such an excellent job in having events for sledge hockey all over the country and that’s to expose and help grow the game, and grow the sport.
“In the Kootenays we don’t have any sledge hockey that I’m aware of. It would be real, real fantastic if we could have sledge hockey started.”
The national sledge hockey team is looking to increase its exposure in the community and also plans to meet with local residents with disabilities and introduce them to the sport.
“The Thursday morning we’re inviting all the kids throughout the Kootenays that have a disability that aren’t able to play hockey, to come on out and experience sledge hockey with our team,” explained Mondin.
The team will also workout with the J. L. Crowe hockey academy students, giving them a first-hand look at its fitness testing regimen and what it takes to become an elite athlete.
“I always say these guys are unbelievable high-performance athletes, not only in this sport but other sports as well.
“But you know, they are such great ambassadors for our country, they’re just great guys, great human beings.”
Team Canada held a selection camp at the beginning of September in Barrie, Ont. where 31 skaters vied for a spot on the roster. That number was cut to 20 for the final evaluation in Trail.
“We’ll trim that down, we’ll see how it goes, but possibly to 18 or 16,” said Mondin. “It gives a few more players an extra opportunity and also gives us an opportunity to evaluate all the ones that are really close in a real competitive environment.”
The team changed dramatically since a fourth-place finish at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but with 15 veterans returning from the 2011 gold medal World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Calgary last December, Mondin says he doesn’t foresee as many roster changes.
The J. L. Crowe instructor patrolled the bench of the Trail Smoke Eaters from 2000-06 and joined the national team as a guest coach in 2007. He was assistant coach at the 2010 Paralympics before being named head coach of the Team Canada sledge hockey team.
Mondin soon tasted success with wins at the Sledge Hockey Challenge in London, Ont. in April and in Calgary the following December, before taking bronze at the World Championships in Norway; yet the transition from ice hockey to sledge hockey was not without its adjustments.
“It was a real challenge for sure,” said Mondin. “Going into a dressing room with wheel chairs and prosthetic limbs all over the place when there is nobody around, and you wonder what’s really going on.”
But the change was a good one, as it made Mondin appreciate even more the efforts of a Terry Fox or Rick Hanson and all those who wish to shed any stigmatism associated with being disabled.
“I really understand what they were doing, now a lot more than I did before. It has certainly helped me as a teacher, but with the actual players, after a number of years, I just see them as hockey players, and they just want to be treated as hockey players and we just want to win hockey games.”
Team Canada will play in the World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Calgary in December, a training camp in Fredericton, N.B. in January, an exhibition series against the U.S. in Ottawa in February, and a mini-camp in March to prepare for the World Championship in South Korea in April.