Quesnel sledge hockey player James Gemmell is heading to the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games. Melanie Law photo

Canada earns second Paralympic Games silver in 20 years

Held 1-0 lead in para hockey game from 12:06 of first to dying seconds of third and lost in overtime

Canada’s para hockey team collected silver medals after dropping a 2-1 overtime loss to the United States Saturday afternoon during the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Games in Gangneung, South Korea.

The men, who proudly wore the Maple Leaf uniforms, got on the scoreboard first on a goal by veteran Billy Bridges (Summerside, PEI) at 12:06 of the first period.

Canada held on to the lead until the Americans knotted the score in the dying seconds of the third stanza to take the game into overtime.

Goalie Dominic Larocque (Quebec City, Que.) was strong between the pipes as faced 16 shots – four more than the American net-minder.

The U.S. grabbed the gold as Declan Farmer’s shot found the back of the net at 3:30 of the overtime period.

“Our guys were tremendous. They battled hard,” said Team Canada head coach Ken Babey.

“They took Canada’s para hockey program to a silver medal.

“I’m very proud of our team, and I’m very lucky to be part of such a great group of young men and such a great organization [Hockey Canada].”

Babey’s disappointment over the loss wasn’t overshadowed by the prospects he sees for the program leading into 2022.

“The veteran players showed a lot of experience, and they bought into the system and the style of play. We’ve taken the style of play to a whole new level, and Canada should be proud of that – our team is proud of that.”

We have a lot of young players coming up, and through this experience, we’ll be better. “Our fortunes are looking pretty good for the next quadrennial.”

Canada dominated its opponents during the preliminary round and semifinal play where they outscored Sweden, Italy, Norway, and Korea 42-0 while allowing only 13 shots on goal.

Canada ends the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Games with a 4-1 record.

This whole build has been fantastic, said team captain Greg Westlake (Toronto), one of three players who won gold in 2006, and bronze in 2014

“It’s not the result we wanted tonight, but I think it’s important to take a step back and realize that in high-performance sport, the difference can be inches, millimetres, a millisecond and that can determine the outcome, and that can determine and shape your experience of a [Paralympic] Games.”

While silver isn’t the colour of medal the team had hoped for, Westlake said a Paralympic Games medal of any colour is special and holds a lot of power.

“I’ve been fortunate to go to a lot of galas, a lot of golf tournaments, a lot of hospitals, and people don’t care that it’s gold, silver or bronze.

“They care that you stuck to something, persevered, and you were able to accomplish something not many people do in their life.

I think over time we’ll take this silver medal back home and hopefully inspire a whole new generation of Paralympians, Olympians, [or] just high-performing people who say ‘hey, bad things are coming, but we’re going to work hard and we’re going to come out the other side [and be] OK’.”

Canada’s lone para hockey gold medal came in Turin in 2006 where three members of this year’s team – Brad Bowden (Orton, Ont.), Bridges, and Westlake – finished atop the podium.

(James Gemmell, the sole para hockey team member from B.C., has said this was the event that inspired him to get involved in sledge hockey.)

Canada has also won Paralympic silver in Nagano, Japan (1998), as well as a pair of bronze medals in Lillehammer, Norway (1994), and Sochi, Russia (2014).

The addition of Canada’s silver medal adds to the record medal (28) haul for the Canadian contingent at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, surpassing the 2010 record of 19 medals in Vancouver.

Canada’s para hockey team is set to return home on on March 20, with Gemmell arriving in Vancouver on AC64 at 11:40 a.m.

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