OTTAWA – Zach Lavin admits the U.S. will once again be a formidable opponent at the World Para Ice Hockey Championships, which gets underway Sunday in Moose Jaw, Sask. – but buoyed by a home crowd and improved play this season, there’s a high sense of excitement on Team Canada.
‘’The U.S. is our biggest competitor and they’ve had the edge on us, but we’re excited right now every time we have to go out and compete against them,’’ said Lavin recently at the Paralympic Foundation of Canada’s ParaTough Cup event in Calgary, where he was an athlete ambassador. ‘’We’ve changed a lot of things, put in new faces and we are putting in the work.’’
The intense rivalry between the North American teams continued to heat up this past winter capped by a fight in one of the three games in a series in Elmira, Ont.
‘’On the ice, things can get heated but I think we’re just two competitive teams who respect the game of hockey and respect pushing that game to its absolute limits,’’ Canadian defenceman Rob Armstrong told the Elmira Observer after that battle in which two of the three games were decided by a goal.
The Canadians, led by head coach Russ Herrington, is a mix of youth and experience. Goaltender Dominic Larocque and forward Adam Dixon are headed to their seventh worlds.
Dixon retired after the 2018 Games but returned in the lead-up to Beijing 2022. His last worlds appearance was in 2017 when Canada last won gold. Since then the Americans have won every major event (two Paralympic Winter Games and two worlds).
Canada’s top player and leader is captain Tyler McGregor, headed to his sixth worlds. The three-time Paralympian notched eight points at the Beijing 2022 Paralympics and 11 points at the Ostrava 2021 World Championships. McGregor, who has been on the national team since 2012, is now one of the most consistent leaders and scorers in the sport.
He made headlines this past winter, not only for his Para ice hockey skills, but for his Sledge Skate of Hope in which he skated 42 kilometres in each of Canada’s provinces (for a total of 420km) to raise money for the Terry Fox Foundation.
Of the 18 players named to the Canadian roster, six are making their worlds debut including Quebec’s Raphaelle Tousignant, the first woman to represent the country at the Para ice hockey worlds.
‘’I am very excited and I’m already putting pressure on myself,’’ said Tousignant, 20, to La Revue. ‘’It’s a big step forward.’’
This year the Canadians stand to benefit from home ice advantage for the very first time at the worlds, which have been held since 1996.
‘’We’re a lot younger now and working towards the same goal,” said Dominic Cozzolino, who returned this season to the team after injuries kept him off the ice last season. ‘’There’s been some growing pains along the way but it’s an exciting time for our team.’’
There are eight countries at this year’s worlds split into two pools. The top teams are in Pool A, comprised of Canada, USA, South Korea and Czechia. In pool B it’s China, Norway, Germany and Italy.
The four teams in Pool A advance to the quarterfinals with the top two getting a bye to the semifinals. The top two in pool B advance to the quarterfinals.
The tournament opens Sunday with three games while Canada’s first preliminary round match is Monday May 29 against the Koreans. That’s followed by games against the Czechs on Tuesday and the Americans on Wednesday. All start times are 7 p.m. local / 9 p.m. ET.
The quarterfinals are June 2, the semis June 3, and the medal games Sunday June 4. The bronze game is at 3 p.m. local and the championship game at 7 p.m. local.
The Moose Jaw community has been showing its excitement to host the tournament since it was officially announced in March. The Moose Jaw Events Centre has undergone a facelift for the tournament which includes improving its accessibility, particularly for the players’ access between the ice and dressing rooms and on the benches.
"The world is literally coming to Moose Jaw and we want to put on our best face,’’ said City of Moose Jaw spokesperson Craig Hemingway.
All 20 tournament games will be available via livestream at HockeyCanada.ca.