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Patrice Dagenais returns to familiar podium position as wheelchair rugby nationals return

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By Dan Plouffe

Three-time Paralympian Patrice Dagenais won a silver medal with Team Ontario this past weekend at the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby Championships in Montreal, providing a matching medal to the silver he won from his last international tournament.

The Alberta Roughnecks were the only team that could hang with Dagenais’s Ontario Thunder, taking four-point victories in their round robin meeting as well as the rematch in the championship game.

Patrice Dagenais scores during preliminary round play at the 2022 Canadian Wheelchair Rugby Championships in Montreal. Photo: Dan Plouffe

The Thunder earned earlier sizeable victories over B.C., Quebec, and their provincial-counterpart Ontario Lightning to reach the final of the first nationals held since 2019.

“We’re just so happy to be back at it and seeing a lot of people that we haven’t seen in a couple of years,” London 2012 Paralympic silver medallist Dagenais said in an interview midway through the tournament, which featured many smiles on court during pauses in action.

“Wheelchair rugby is such a small community that we know everyone,” highlighted the Team Ontario player/coach veteran whose first nationals came in 2006. “Just being all together and being able to compete, I think it’s important for everyone.”

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Dagenais has a very busy competition calendar this year, which stands in stark contrast to the lead-up to last summer’s Paralympics when Team Canada hadn’t played in an international tournament for over a year before the Games.

The Canadians got a fairly rude awakening when they drew the eventual gold and silver medallists from Great Britain and the United States in their first two matches in Tokyo. They lost by just three and four points in those contests, but that kept Canada out of the medals despite decisive wins over New Zealand and France in their next matches to finish fifth.

Dagenais and Team Canada continued that rebound with a strong showing at the March 6-13 Americas Championship in Columbia. They knocked off USA by four points en route to a perfect 5-0 round robin record before falling by that same margin to USA in the championship game.

“It had been a while since we’d beat the Americans, so that was good for our confidence,” signalled Dagenais, the 37-year-old Team Canada co-captain. “It was close game, but unfortunately we lost to them in the finals, but top three teams qualified for worlds, so we’re all qualified.”

Patrice Dagenais at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Photo: CPC

The World Wheelchair Rugby Championships will take place Oct. 8-17 in Denmark. Before then, Dagenais will have four international competitions, including the May 30-June 5 Canada Cup featuring the world’s seven-best nations in Richmond, B.C.

It’s unusual to have so many big events the season following a Paralympics, but the pandemic-induced Games postponement created that reality. Dagenais isn’t about to complain for a second.

“It’s gonna be a lot of rugby the next few months, but we’re just happy that things are opening up, and hopefully it stays that way,” underlined the president of the local Ottawa Stingers wheelchair rugby club. “There’s not much downtime, but I mean, we had enough downtime during COVID that we’re ready to go now.”

Ben Perkins won bronze at the April 28-May 1 Canadian Wheelchair Rugby Championships in Montreal. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Ottawa’s Ben Perkins helped lead the Ontario Lightning to the national bronze medal in the top division with a 51-48 win over Quebec in the battle for third place.

Four members of the Ottawa Stingers also played on the Ontario Storm in the tournament’s second division, taking silver behind Team B.C. 2.

With conflicting commitments on the water, Tokyo Paralympic paddler Hennessy misses Canadian rugby championships

Ottawa Paralympic paddler Brianna Hennessy took part in Team Ontario camps in the lead-up to the competition, but wasn’t able to participate in the nationals because she had canoe-kayak selection races for Team Canada at the same time.

Brianna Hennessy (right) and Patrice Dagenais at an Ottawa Stingers wheelchair rugby practice. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Earlier this season, Hennessy competed for Tampa Bay in the U.S. wheelchair rugby league while also training for paddling in Florida during the winter. As the only Canadian woman imported into the 44-team league, Hennessy helped Tampa to a fifth-place performance at the U.S. nationals at the start of April in Chicago.

She then went straight to California for a paddling camp and was hardly home for more than a couple days at a time before the May 2-5 national team trials in Halifax, where she’s so far earned third- and second-place finishes in her mixed-gender races.

“I am so grateful for these amazing opportunities in my life,” Hennessy wrote on Instagram recently, alongside a photo of her with two massive piles of luggage/equipment for both sports.

“They are what give me my purpose back, since my accident. My reason to keep getting out of bed,” added Hennessy, who was struck by a car in Toronto in 2014 and was introduced to both her parasport pursuits by Dagenais. “My heart is on fire, from all of the love & support I have from my American & Canadian parasport families!”

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