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Ottawa at the Paralympics Final Day: Silver not so sweet for para hockey team

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By Dan Plouffe, Martin Cleary, Ethan Diamandas & Charlie Pinkerton (This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Paralympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter, for free, here.)

Day 9 Recap: Silver not super sweet for Canada with 5-0 para ice hockey defeat to USA in final

There were less eyes on the para ice hockey championship game with a late-night start back home and no live broadcast on TV, and ultimately Team Canada may have been a bit thankful that fewer Canadians witnessed the 5-0 pounding they took.

The Canadians were the definite underdogs in the final, having lost by an identical 5-0 mark to USA in the tournament opener. While taking silver behind the winners of four consecutive Paralympics was the expected result, the Americans were handed many of their goals, and when Canada plays hockey, gold is always the objective.

“It is pretty heavy on the heart right now, and I think it is going to take some time to move past that,” Canadian captain Tyler McGregor told CBC. “(With) the resiliency of this team and how much we love and care for each other, and all the hard work that goes in to representing your country – it’s heartbreaking.”

Canada started out strong in the opening period, but a promising opportunity turned to a disaster in a hurry. With a delayed penalty on the way, Liam Hickey fanned on a breakaway, and by the end of USA’s 2-minute penalty, the Americans had scored two shorthanded goals and sent the Canadians reeling.

USA added two more goals off the rush in the second period, and Canada ended the second with as terrible a 5-on-3 powerplay as you’ll see to dash any realistic comeback hopes.

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Ottawa defenders Tyrone Henry and Rob Armstrong were down from their respective 17:20 and 19:29 average ice times at 8:45 and 10:27 in the final and were -2 and -3, while local forwards Ben Delaney and Anton Jacobs-Webb were -1 and -2 with a scoring chance each.

(From left) Composite photo of Anton Jacobs-Webb, Tyrone Henry, Rob Armstrong and Ben Delaney after receiving their 2022 Paralympic silver medals. Photo: CPC

The Ottawa Sports Pages’ efforts to reach our local players in Beijing through Hockey Canada also fell short unfortunately (though we hope to catch up with them once they’re back on home ice).

But McGregor made mention of the bright future offered by the likes of his assistant captain and fellow 28-year-old Henry, 25-year-olds Delaney and Armstrong, and Jacobs-Webb, 21.

“We have so much talent and youth. We have so much young leadership within our team, and that’s exciting,” McGregor highlighted. “This is not the first time we have to start over after being on the wrong side of the gold medal game.

“You never give up. You have to keep finding ways to put yourself [in position] to win a gold medal. We have to believe that we have the team to do that.”

Best moments lie ahead for local para ice hockey crew

Ottawa’s Ben Delaney salutes goaltender Adam Kingsmill after Canada’s semi-final win over Korea. Photo: CPC

Though it’s always tough to lose the gold, the Canadians did earn their silver with a pair of earlier dominant wins.

Though it was clear the Americans were the best in the final, Canada and USA’s superiority over everyone else was even more pronounced in this tournament (the reigning world bronze medallists from Russia did get the boot before the Paralympic competition began, it’s worth noting).

The Canadians blasted Korea 6-0 in the preliminary round and then 11-0 in the semifinal to assure themselves of a place on the podium. Our local players found their way onto the scoresheet a few times in Beijing – Armstrong and Delaney both registered an assist while Henry had two, and Jacobs-Webb had a goal and an assist.

It’s safe to say that the best is yet to come from this youthful-yet-experienced Sledge Hockey of Eastern Ontario group.

Before the Games, Henry highlighted how he’s been thinking about “the growth that we can inspire in the next generation” with their efforts in Beijing, and back at home (where he serves as SHEO’s volunteer intermediate division coordinator).

Paralympic movement moves forward, with more ground still to climb

Tyrone Henry. Photo: CPC

That kind of brings us back to what we noted off the top – that the gold medal game wasn’t broadcast live on TV.

Instead of a Canada vs USA Winter Games gold medal match, CBC offered viewers the 58th game of the NHL regular season – the second end of a doubleheader that was broadcast simultaneously on another channel.

Now, having high-quality live streams of every Paralympic event is huge progress – we remember trying to watch a blurry feed that cut off constantly when Lauren Woolstencroft skied to a historic five gold medals at Vancouver 2010… And it’s not difficult for many para ice hockey fans to access a web stream. But it’s definitely a lost opportunity to reach a wider audience.

And not having the big game on any TV channel shows that Paralympians are still battling for the same kind of respect as their Olympic peers (you’d never imagine a similar situation for an Olympic ice hockey final, right?)

Anton Jacobs-Webb. Photo: CPC

An earlier CBC article noted the “obvious gap” between Canadian Olympic medallists getting paid $20,000, $15,000 or $10,000 for winning gold, silver or bronze, and Canadian Paralympians receiving nothing.

Hockey Canada and the International Ice Hockey Federation were hellbent on staging men’s championships through COVID, but didn’t have the same resolve to pull off youth women’s or para hockey competitions.

They of course prioritize the big moneymakers. But if national sports organizations, international sports federations, governments and broadcasters are not going to prioritize their own products and give them equitable treatment, then it should come as a no surprise that they will continue to not be as lucrative.

Local athletes win 4 of Canada’s 25 Paralympic medals

It is difficult for us to get too down on the CBC – their team has done an exceptional job overall covering the Olympics and Paralympics, and the CBC also serves as the primary voice for Canada’s amateur athletes for the four years outside of the Games as well. So as we begin our look back on the Paralympics, let’s begin by sharing a great feature of theirs on Ottawa’s Tristan Rodgers and fellow guide skier Russell Kennedy.

Rodgers and Mac Marcoux, a para alpine skier from the Sault Ste. Marie area who has a visual impairment, started the Games with a bang as they captured a silver medal in the first competition of the Paralympics.

Mac Marcoux (left) and Ottawa guide Tristan Rodgers. Photo: @tristanr0dgers Instagram

But as the CBC article noted, a guide’s role and devotion stretches well beyond that moment where he’s leading an athlete down the slope in Paralympic competition.

When Marcoux injured his back, Rodgers was there with him for two months of rehab, driving him to each session and doing exercises at his side.

“Being there for him in the pre-season and through the injuries has really tested our commitment towards each other and towards the sport,” highlighted Rodgers. “And I think that without that, we wouldn’t have had the success that we had.”

Beijing was Rodgers’ Paralympic debut after becoming Marcoux’s guide in the summer of 2018.

“This has been my life, this has been my career, my job, my whatever you want to call it,” noted the 23-year-old who’s one year younger than Marcoux. “It’s been all and everything that I have, and to be able to pour my heart and soul into something for four years, it’s been so rewarding.”

Tristan Rodgers. Photo: Alpine Canada

After winning silver in the downhill, Marcoux did not finish the super-G the next day, injuring himself while turning sharply and putting an end to his third Paralympics. Rodgers said “you can’t avoid” feeling responsible as a guide when a partner is injured.

“Even if it’s your fault or not your fault, the first thing you feel is like, ‘Shoot, I messed up,’ because you are in front, you are dictating the line that you’re skiing and obviously in your head right after that happens, you think of the 100 other different scenarios that could have happened to avoid that,” Rodgers indicated. “But at the end of the day you kind of get some perspective and you look back at it 360 [degrees] there’s nothing that I would have done differently.”

More solid skiing performances

Alexis Guimond. Photo: Alpine Canada

On the same day as Marcoux’s crash, Alexis Guimond made it to the podium in the men’s standing super-G, collecting bronze. The 22-year-old also put in piles of work in the background before shining on stage, having added 30 pounds to his frame since his Paralympic debut in 2018.

“It’s not always been easy for me this four years and especially the pandemic made things a lot harder. But I’m really happy about my performance and I’m really happy about what I did,” Guimond said via Alpine Canada. “It’s been a long time coming and I’ve fallen short a lot of times in my career in the big moments. I’ve worked hard the last four years. My sole focus was on these Games, and I put everything into this performance, and I knew I had to put everything on the line.”

Guimond also placed fifth in the downhill and did not finish the giant slalom.

Brian Rowland competes in the giant slalom at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre on March 10. Photo: CPC

Though he’s the eldest at age 35, Brian Rowland was the lone Paralympic rookie of the local para alpine bunch, and a major goal of his was to gain experience in his quest to join the world’s very best in men’s sit-skiing.

Rowland entered the slalom on the final day of the Games, even though that discipline was not going to be his chance to shine. He made it through the first run before getting too far down the hill to make it back through a gate during his second run. He also missed a gate in the downhill, but recorded 12th- and 10th-place finishes in the giant slalom and super-G.

Rowland is still a relative newcomer to the sport, having only started in 2017 at Calabogie Peaks. The former snowboarder who was injured in a motocross accident can certainly find fuel from his top-10 finish in the super-G, which came despite facing difficult course conditions as the 127th of 128 total competitors to ski the track that day.

Ottawa’s Collinda Joseph and her teammates gave Canada an exciting ride en route to the wheelchair curling bronze medal.

Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games bronze medallist Collinda Joseph. Photo: CPC

The Canadians burst out to four straight victories to open the competition, then lost three in a row before winning three more big ones to get into the medal round. They lost their semi-final to China, but quickly rebounded to win bronze over Slovakia.

Team Canada fifth Joseph played in one match against Korea, which came 16 years after first taking up wheelchair curling at age 40.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Joseph reflected in a mid-Games blog for Curling Canada. “The Opening Ceremonies were unbelievable. Walking into the stadium with all of Team Canada was something I’ll never forget.”

Ottawa athletes contributed to four of Canada’s 25 total medals at the Paralympics, which was good for third overall in the medal standings with eight gold, six silver and 11 bronze.

End of a chapter

One bit of news we want to share that came as the Beijing Games closed – two-time Olympian Dawn McEwen has announced her retirement.

“It has been a ride of a lifetime!” McEwen wrote in a series of Twitter posts. “My curling career has truly been incredible and I have achieved things that I could only dream about as a little girl. I am full of gratitude, and I can peacefully say I am ready to hang up the curling shoes at the end of this season.”

The 41-year-old mother of two from Ottawa played lead for Canada in Beijing and was a 2014 Olympic champ with Team Jennifer Jones.

To counter that piece of bittersweet news, we’d like to finish with what we hope will be an uplifting little surprise…

We’d thought today would be our final day of coverage on the Beijing Games, but it turns out we’ll be back tomorrow with a special ”champions edition” of our daily Games coverage.

The Ottawa Sports Pages has recently connected with our three local Olympic gold medallists – Isabelle Weidemann, Ivanie Blondin and Jamie Lee Rattray – so we’ll look forward to sharing their reflections on their journeys to the top come Monday afternoon. See you then!

(This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Paralympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter, for free, here.)

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