BEIJING – Canada’s hockey team at the Beijing Paralympics had hoped to make up for the overtime heartbreak suffered four years ago.
It wasn’t to be.
The Canadians lost 5-0 to their American rivals at the Paralympics on Sunday.
With their silver medal plus bronze in cross-country’s mixed relay earlier in the day, Canada heads home with 25 medals, the second most in its history behind the 28 captured in Pyeongchange in 2018.
“It is always difficult to lose in a gold-medal game,” said Canadian captain Tyler McGregor, the team’s top scorer in the tournament with five goals and three assists.
“After everything our team has been through over the past four years, and especially over the past two years, we never stopped believing in each other. I could not be more proud of every player in our locker room, as well as our entire staff, for the work we have put in to get to this point. It is tough to fall short of a Paralympic gold medal, but we need to hold our heads high and be proud of the way we competed and represented Canada.”
Canada has won a Para-hockey medal in six of the last eight Games, including silver in a 2-1 loss in overtime in 2018, and gold in 2006.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on Canadian athletes, due to travel restrictions and facility closures. The Para-hockey team had just a half dozen exhibition games this season before arriving in Beijing. In previous Games, they would have had 25 to 30 under their belt.
The game marked the final Para appearance for Greg Westlake, who carried Canada’s flag in the opening ceremony with curler Ina Forrest. He’ll retire after five Games appearances.
“It is an honour to wear the Maple Leaf, and despite not getting gold today, I cannot say enough good things about this team and the way we have improved the last four years,” Westlake said.
“We have gone through an incredible journey to get to this moment, and every single person on our team is so deserving of this medal. It may not be the medal we hoped for, but we can be very proud of the fact that we all stepped up to the best of our ability to make contributions both on and off the ice. I am just so proud of the entire team.”
Canada’s mixed relay — Collin Cameron of Bracebridge, Ont., Emily Young of North Vancouver, B.C., Mark Arendz of Hartsville, P.E.I., and Natalie Wilkie of Salmon Arm, B.C. — skied to bronze for the team’s 14th medal in cross-country in Beijing.
“This is friggin’ awesome. That was so much fun,” said Cameron, who heads home with three bronze medals. “We knew as a team that we had a really strong chance today. We all had the stoke level at maximum trying to survive after a week of racing.
“It just feels perfect to come out here and get a podium together with these three. I couldn’t have asked for anything more today.”
Cameron skied the second-fastest opening leg before handing off to Young. Arendz, who has won 12 Paralympic medals, including four in Beijing, closed a 35-second gap to set up Wilkie’s race for the podium in the anchor leg.
The 21-year-old Wilkie won two golds, a silver and a bronze in Beijing.
The United States won the gold, while China was second.
Canada’s cross-country star Brian McKeever, along with guide Russell Kennedy, teamed up with Brittany Hudak in the 4×2.5-kilometre open relay. They finished sixth in McKeever’s final Paralympic race. McKeever’s gold a day earlier tied him with Gerd Schoenfelder of Germany for the most titles by a male winter Paralympian with 16.
“It was so special to have this opportunity to ski the final race with Brian,” Hudak said. “I have looked up to him for so many years and he has done so much for our sport.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2022.
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