MOOSE JAW, Sask.- Mike Foligno, the former NHL’er and current assistant coach with Canada’s national Para ice hockey team still remembers the first time he met Para hockey trailblazer Raphaelle Tousignant.
‘’It was about five years ago at a camp and someone suggested to her whether she would consider a different sport where there might be more opportunities,’’ he recalled. ‘’She said: ‘No! this is the team I want to play for’ and here she is five years later: she’s made the team.
‘’What incredible determination, dedication and passion on her part.’’
Tousignant is the first female player to compete at the Para ice hockey world championships for Canada. At only 20, she may not yet realize that this achievement will be talked about for many years and be permanently etched in Canadian sport and hockey history.
Her national team nomination has been a hit in Quebec with many major media producing features on the Universite du Quebec à Montreal (UQAM) teacher’s education student. It’s been quite a roller coaster ride the past few weeks juggling interviews and staying sharp on the ice.
‘’I knew once the announcement was made that I was on the team there’d would be a little boom initially in the media at home,’’ she said after Canada’s practice on Friday. ‘’There’d had already been some interest in my Para hockey journey but I didn’t expect it would be so big this time.
‘’It’s very positive for women’s Para hockey and I’m happy to provide this kind of visibility. Hockey is in my blood.’’
In Canada’s first game on Monday against South Korea, Tousignant made her official debut. She had a shot on goal and was on the ice for one of Canada’s many goals in a 15-1 victory.
‘’I was pretty nervous,’’ she admitted. ‘’I put some pressure on myself to not be disappointing on the ice but I think it went relatively well considering I just arrived on the team.’’
Her teammates and coaches are delighted to see Tousignant breaking down barriers.
Veteran Rob Armstrong, who is based in Ottawa, travelled to the Montreal players hub on several occasions this winter.
‘’Just seeing her dedication and commitment to get better and grow the women’s game, it was an easy decision to bring her with us,’’ said Armstrong. ‘’She’s such a hard worker and a valuable teammate.’’
As a youngster Tousignant was an avid ringette player and a huge fan of the Montreal Canadiens gathering with family every Saturday night to watch games. But tragedy struck at age 10. She was bruised in a nasty fall while playing ringette and it would later be diagnosed as osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer in her right hip and sciatic nerve.
A decision was made to amputate her right leg and she admits her biggest worry initially was if she would ever play sports again.
After a long rehab period, she was introduced to Para hockey and it was love and first push. By 16 she was already on the Quebec men’s provincial team and on Hockey Canada’s radar. Since then, she’s been unstoppable.
‘’She’s here to be a contributing factor,’’ said Foligno. ‘’She wants to help our team be successful and we are so proud of her with the all the effort she has made so far and will continue to put in.’’