Sport: Para Ice Hockey
Hometown: Erin, Ont.
Residence: Erin, Ont.
Local Club: Sledge Hockey of Eastern Ontario
By Charlie Pinkerton
At the 2018 Pyeongchang Paralympics, Canada’s para ice hockey team came devastatingly close to winning the gold medal.
In the event’s final, Team Canada led Team USA, the two-time defending Paralympic champions, 1-0 for most of the 45 minutes of regulation time.
With 1:21 left in the third period, and a faceoff set to resume play in Canada’s end, the United States turned to desperation and pulled its goalie. Canada won the ensuing draw, and, after a scramble in its own end, cleared the puck up the boards.
Rob Armstrong, a Canadian defenceman whose link to Ottawa is through his undergraduate studies at Carleton University, spotted a chance to seal the game for Canada. The self-described offensive-defenceman took it.
Armstrong was furthest up the ice of any Canadian player after the post-faceoff chaos. As the puck puttered up the right wing, Armstrong put his head down and dug the spiked ends of his sticks into the ice in rapid succession to outrace U.S. players to the puck in the Americans’ end.
Almost exactly at the one-minute mark, Armstrong decelerated, corralled the puck, and — with an American player bearing down on him — fired it at the empty net from just outside the U.S. faceoff circle. His attempt at clinching gold happened in about one second flat.
Armstrong’s shot banged off the post.
“And that there was Canada — surely — winning their first gold since 2006,” the play-by-play announcer said.
Instead, the Americans recovered, breaking out down the ice and, after another 20 seconds of mayhem, they scored.
Just three minutes and 30 seconds into overtime, the U.S. scored again, and the Canadians were relegated to a silver medal.
Armstrong was on the ice for the Americans’ second goal as well.
The loss was stunning for Team Canada. Devastated Canadian players cried while the Americans were awarded their golden prize.
It stung for Armstrong in particular.
“When I got home, that moment (his opportunity to put Canada up 2-0) was all I could think about,” he was quoted as saying in a February 2019 article on the International Paralympic Committee’s website.
A year later, Armstrong’s wounds from losing the gold medal game hadn’t healed.
“I think about it a lot,” Armstrong said in the same article. “There’ll be a day when I can tell my kids what I’ve done, but right now, I wish I could’ve performed better — we could’ve performed better.”
And he’s not the only Canadian player still haunted by coming so close to gold, only for it to slip away in a matter of seconds.
Tyler McGregor, a forward on Canada’s 2018 team who, like Armstrong, is back on the Paralympic team this year, explained to CBC before the Games that the loss against the U.S. affected him into the next season as well.
“I really spent the time to look internally and try to iron out some shortcomings in myself,” said McGregor, who was also quoted as saying, “(it) took a long time to move past.”
It’s been four years since Canada’s heartbreaking loss. McGregor said he’s moved past it. He found a silver lining to the silver finish, too. He said the experience forced him to become more mentally tough.
Back in 2019, Armstrong said he turned to his schooling as a distraction from the end of the 2018 Games. He also said he hoped he could look to it as motivation eventually.
Things didn’t go Canada’s way against the U.S. when they matched up first in the 2022 Paralympic tournament, with the Americans winning 5-0. Neither team has dropped a game since. If Team Canada keeps that up — as it’s favoured to — it will likely see Team USA in a rematch of the 2018 gold medal game.
If that’s the case, Armstrong won’t have any distractions. But he’ll have a hell of a reason to be motivated.
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