By Dan Plouffe
Sledge Hockey of Eastern Ontario players Tyrone Henry, Anton Jacobs-Webb, Ben Delaney, Rob Armstrong and the rest of Team Canada certainly wore long faces when they were first awarded their silver medals in the immediate aftermath of a 5-0 defeat to USA in the Paralympic final.
But their prizes from Beijing 2022 were certainly sparkling much brighter alongside their smiles come April 9 for a “Skate with a Paralympian” event, held during SHEO’s annual tournament at Cardelrec Recreation Complex Goulbourn.
“Since I made the team, we said, ‘Beijing: we’re looking for a gold medal.’ That’s been super clear and that’s been our objective the whole time, so we are disappointed,” signals Jacobs-Webb, who first cracked the Team Canada lineup in 2019 and attended his first Paralympics from March 4-13.
“But then when you come home, it’s just so nice to have (the silver medal) to look at, and my game jersey,” he adds. “It’s nice to have those little mementos and souvenirs to remember the Games.”
Losing to the Americans in the championship game hurt of course, but Canada enjoy a couple of earlier wins to earn silver, including an 11-0 pounding of Korea in the semi-final. But Henry says the performances during competition are secondary to all the work that goes in behind the scenes.
“For myself personally, (the medal)’s always represented the journey that we went through together over the last four years, and especially the last two years in the pandemic,” highlights the Team Canada assistant captain who was back in his old backyard in Stittsville for the celebration event.
“Everything we did to stay together, the Zoom meetings, the workouts at home, traveling for hub training, getting together before the Games for a month, just everything that we did together to try and chase our dream, and that growth that we had together – that’s what it represents,” he adds. “It’s more than just the end result. We all take pride in the process.”
Beijing was Henry’s second Paralympic appearance (and second silver medal) along with fellow defender Armstrong, while Delaney earned his third Paralympic medal to go alongside bronze from 2014.
“A lot of the guys, we’ve been together for a long time,” notes 28-year-old Henry, who first saw sledge hockey on TV during the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics a few months before a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.
“We just enjoyed the moment being there and being able to represent our country, to have that maple leaf on our chests, feeling that pride, and having all that support from back home, it was just a very treasured experience.
“It’s the biggest stage, so it’s something that we will all remember forever.”
It was the first taste of the sport’s peak platform for 21-year-old Concordia University mechanical engineer student Jacobs-Webb, who received piles of messages from supporters, including schoolmates he hadn’t heard from in years.
“It was pretty crazy. It’s been my dream since I first started,” indicates Jacobs-Webb, whose introduction to the sport came from a Paralympic legend, Hervé Lord. “I was super excited when I first made the (national) team, and then making the Paralympic dream was my biggest dream.”
Jacobs-Webb had previously played in two World Championships, but he says that being out on the ice for the Paralympics did feel different.
“Ya, the teams we’d all played before, so it’s really similar, but there’s definitely another level of stress,” he explains. “Normally your parents are watching, but with the Paralympics, it’s like Canada and the world is watching.
“And playing the Americans comes with the normal amount of stress, plus it’s the Paralympics, plus it’s the gold medal game. So different stresses, which is good and bad, but everybody wants (to feel) it.”
Jacobs-Webb, who scored a goal and an assist and helped create a number of Canadian scoring chances during the tournament, says his main goal for his Paralympic debut was to “enjoy it as much as I could.”
“It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for so long,” he underlines. “And I also wanted to play a big role in winning that medal.”
Henry says Team Canada has a “very bright future ahead” with young players like Jacobs-Webb coming up the ranks. And events like the “Skate with a Paralympian” session – where the public was invited to try skating in a hockey sledge – is a fun chance to share the sport with the community, adds Henry, who serves as SHEO’s volunteer intermediate division coordinator.
SHEO runs programs on Sundays at Jim Durrell Recreation Centre, including intermediate (competitive level with body contact), open (SHEO recently won that category’s Ontario championship), and an introductory program (which has grown the most in recent years), plus a Friday night house league.
“The grassroots is where I came from – it’s where we all came from – so I want to help grow this game. I want to make it bigger in Canada,” notes Henry. “Keep the people that are involved engaged and try to help all the players develop and have that passion themselves for the game. That’s what it’s all about.”
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