When you think of Canada, chances are you think of ice hockey and a country that lives and dies by the sport.
You think of their successes, the accolades and the great players that have come and gone.
The pressure is always on Canada on the world stage, and it was no different in April at the 2013 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship A-Pool in Goyang, South Korea.
Getting out of a slump
In recent years Canada has not been so successful. In fact, the last time the country had won a world title was in 2008.
After losing out on a medal at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics, Canada entered Goyang with a different mindset – don’t think about the gold-medal game.
“In the past, I know we’ve been caught guilty of showing up to a tournament and thinking about the gold medal and I think that’s death,” said team captain Greg Westlake.
Staying humble, Westlake says, is the name of the game.
It was a perfect start to the tournament for Canada, going undefeated in the round-robin stage by beating Italy, Russia and South Korea.
The game against Russia was the team’s biggest test with the Russians scoring a pair of goals in the third period to make things close.
“I remember even after we won against Russia we were sitting in the change room after the game, and it felt like a loss because we just weren’t happy at all with how we played,” said Westlake.
From there Canada got the message that they could no longer be able to take any team lightly.
Taking over the podium
In what has been their kryptonite in years past, the semi-final game was a breeze for the Canadians, who defeated the Czech Republic, 5-0.
That set the stage perfectly for an all-North American final against the USA.
“I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my career but one thing that I really wanted to do before I retired was beat the US in the gold-medal game,” said Westlake.
The stage was set on 20 April at the SPART Complex and Park, but the offence was hard to come by.
At the end of the first period it was scoreless between both teams with Canada dominating the play with five shots.
Just over two minutes into the second period, Canada finally solved Steve Cash with defenceman Graeme Murray finding the back of the net.
That was all Canada needed to win their first world title in five years.
Westlake was named the top forward in the tournament after scoring eight points (five goals, three assists) and having a plus-minus of nine.
“It’s fun, I appreciate the honour,” said Westlake. “I had led tournaments in scoring in the past and not won best forward or MVP or awards like that and what I really liked about this tournament is that I feel like I just played good hockey.”
Canada went on to also win gold at August’s Sochi 2014 Test Event, as well as December’s World Sledge Hockey Challenge, where they beat the USA two more times in the process.
After years of looking toward the gold-medal game, and with their scare against Russia in Goyang, veteran Canadian forward Billy Bridges thinks this Canadian team is different than in years past.
“The one thing that we’ve been missing in the past is maybe chemistry,” said Bridges. “We’ve always had a lot of good talent, but I think coming into Korea we didn’t have any clique on our team. We didn’t have any guys that disrespected one another or anything. It was all just complete camaraderie.”
“I really do think that is something of the past.”