TORONTO – When Tyler McGregor gathered on the ice with his teammates for the first time in nearly a year last month, it ignited hope in himself and the other players that the 2021 season can still become a reality after 2020’s wipeout.
A training camp is also in the works for March in Montreal and the world championships are currently scheduled for June in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
‘’It was incredible,’’ McGregor said about the Para ice hockey team’s recent selection camp in Calgary. ‘’It really teaches you how much you love your sport and how much you miss it when it is taken away from you. It was just great to be back in a competitive environment.
‘’It’s nice to have something to look forward to, especially with over a year to go before the Beijing Games. I sympathize so much with the summer athletes right now who are facing so much uncertainty.’’
This is not the first time the Toronto resident has faced uncertainty in his life. At age 15, he broke his leg in his 2009 season opener. An OHL prospect at the time, he underwent surgery but developed a growth behind his leg. He was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma, a form of soft-tissue cancer that originates in the bone. His leg was amputated on the same day as the 2010 OHL Draft.
‘’The power of sport brings communities together,’’ said McGregor, when first asked about dealing with such a shock at a tender age. ‘’That’s the number-one thing that helped me with that transition in my life.
‘’Then sport teaches you a lot. The resilience and mindset to remain positive when faced with adversity – I think sport really helped me prepare for a difficult time.’’
Of course, in McGregor’s case we can also translate the power of sport into more specifically the power of hockey. The 26-year-old who grew up in Forest, Ont. started playing organized hockey at age three. There was a rink in his backyard and the local arena was only 400 metres away.
McGregor pretended he was Joe Sakic and that he scored the game winning goal at the Olympics on those ice surfaces as a child.
‘’Sport teaches you to adapt,’’ McGregor said. ‘’Even at 15 I was armed for everything that came my way. I still had so much passion for the game that I loved. Para ice hockey allowed me to continue along that path, play at the highest level and represent Canada.
‘’It’s been such an honour for the past nine years.’’
McGregor, captain of Canada’s national team, has now been giving back to the next generation so others can also experience the joy he has in sport.
The two-time Paralympic medallist had a similar cancer to Terry Fox and considers the Canadian icon to be one of his idols.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Fox’s passing, and McGregor will be skating 25 kilometres in his sled this coming Sunday to raise money in support of the Marathon of Hope.
And just in the last year, McGregor has seen national stories about Logan Munden and Ryan Straschnitzki, two individuals who, similar to McGregor, are emerging from difficult circumstances thanks to the positive influence and impact of sport.
Munden, born a condition including two club feet, started playing Para ice hockey at age five. Recently the 11-year-old from Fall River N.S. had one foot amputated and was worried he would no longer play his favourite sport. But two months later he returned to the ice. His story was relayed to Hockey Canada, which made a video viewed by thousands that included McGregor.
‘’Stories like Logan’s are so inspiring,’’ said McGregor. ‘’It’s another example why sport is so powerful. His transition back after his amputation was so quick. He’s a passionate young hockey player who had the same dreams. Just like me, he has the support behind him that will make this an enjoyable learning experience.’’
Straschnitzki is a survivor from the devastating Humboldt Broncos bus crash which shook the nation back in 2018. Paralyzed from the chest down, Straschnitzki has shown a deep determination to one day play Para ice hockey at the Paralympic Games.
‘’His desire to play Para ice hockey was almost immediate after the accident,’’ said McGregor. ‘’He had the belief in himself and the perseverance to get through his recovery and start this process. His work ethic to push through his circumstances has been impressive but he is also patient.’’
Today, Munden and Straschnitzki perhaps dream of one day scoring the winning goal, on a pass from McGregor, or Greg Westlake or Billy Bridges, at a Paralympic Games.