After watching the sport online from afar, hoping for their opportunity to compete, Australia’s first ever men’s Para-ice hockey team will embrace every moment when they hit the ice at the 2018 World Para-ice Hockey Championships this November in Finland.
“We know that this is the start of something big,” said Australian Para-ice Hockey Team Manager Emma Poynton.
“It’s our first ever men’s team, and although there is trepidation about what we’re going into, the guys are extremely excited to get things started.”
The Australian Paralympic Committee (APC), in collaboration with Ice Hockey Australia, has been working to establish the sport domestically, after the APC received a grant from the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Agitos Foundation to grow participation opportunities and to purchase equipment.
Fast-forward 18 months, and Australia’s dedicated group of athletes will be competing in Pool C against Finland and China – two nations with developing teams and high hopes.
“Pool C is considered the entry level of Para-ice hockey and still somewhat developmental, and November will see all three teams in that pool debut,” Poynton said.
Recruitment and interest has been encouraging since the grant from the IPC was received. Among the Australian side are well-established Para-athletes from other sports who have brought a disciplined and driven culture to the team.
Commonwealth Games silver medallist in the men’s shotput F38, Marty Jackson, and Australian representative sit-skier Jason Sauer are two Para-athletes in the 11-man squad, while British Paralympian Gary Farmer will be leading the charge as head coach.
“It’s a brand new team, so there are no rookies so to speak or veterans, but it’s great to have athletes on the team that have had international experience in other sports,” Poynton said.
“Those athletes are pre-conditioned, they’ve got core stability, but mentally they’re focussed and those newer to high performance sport on the team are really going to benefit.”
And despite Australia’s inexperience in the sport, the team have their sights set high.
“We want to win the pool,” Poynton said. “We want to be competitive and successful and be able to climb the international ranks to then work towards getting ourselves into the Paralympic 10 for Beijing [the 2022 Paralympic Games], or if not, the cycle after.
“It’s a rapidly growing sport, so now is the time to get our foot in the door.”
|The Australian Para-ice hockey team for the 2018 World Para-ice Hockey Championships|
By Sascha Ryner, APC Media