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Canadian para hockey athletes visit Quispamsis, N.B., schools ahead of the 2023 Para Hockey Cup


The 2023 Para Hockey Cup is set to take over the qplex in Quispamsis, N.B., for the next week.

Canada, the United States, China, and Czechia will begin tournament play on Dec. 3, with the finals slated for Dec. 9.

Ahead of the tournament, athletes from the Canadian team took the time to visit local schools to help build the excitement for play. Ecole des Pionniers was one of the five schools visited Thursday, which was extra special as students there got the chance to try sledge hockey earlier this year.

“I don’t think I’ve been to a school where they have tried sledge hockey before,” admits Team Canada Centre Anton Jacobs-Webb, who was born in Halifax before moving to Gatineau as a child. “So their questions were really good and like they kind of knew what we are doing and I think that gave it a lot more value.”

“The sport is growing so much that the interest is there to have high level athletes come into a school for para hockey and that’s unbelievable,” says Moncton native Jacob LeBlanc, who is the lone New Brunswicker suiting up for Team Canada. “It didn’t happen for me, so I am more then happy to be that person or them.”

One of these excited students was Justin Dionne, who has been playing sledge hockey himself for the past year. He has even skated with LeBlanc before in Fredericton.

“It was super fun to play with him and he was so fast,” Dionne says. “I get to shoot pucks, skate and play and scrimmage and I got some goals. I’m getting use to it but I’m still getting blisters.”

Dionne has a genetic condition called spinal muscular atrophy which has the potential to impact his mobility in the future. For the next week Dionne will be busy serving as a flag bearer for multiple games. He will also drop the ceremonial puck for the bronze medal match at 3 p.m. on Dec. 9.

“I was so happy,” beams Dionne when recalling being asked to have a big role in the week’s events. “I can be the flag bearer when my friends are there so they are going to see me holding the flag and going around the ice.

“I was happy to see the Canada team and hopefully they can win the gold medal.”

While official play may not start until Sunday, Friday night Canada will take on the U.S. in an exhibition match at 7 p.m.

“That’s always a highlighted game no matter what sport or what event,” says LeBlanc. “Even though it’s only exhibition I expect it to be an almost sold-out crowd if not sold out.”

“There the two best teams in the world and natural rivals in all sports,” says Aaron Kennedy, who is the chair of the host organizing committee. “Canada-USA gets the blood flowing and lifts the hair on the back of your necks.”

“It’s fast, it’s physical and that’s just what people in the Saint John region want in there hockey,” Kennedy continues. “We know people are going to see a very good show on Friday night and we hope that will carry over to the tournament when it starts Sunday afternoon.”

Kennedy says officials have been busy for a number of weeks preparing the qplex for the event. He expects once the puck drops on the tournament, it will be the talk of the town more than it already is.

“The Para Hockey Cup this week is going to own this town,” Kennedy says. “It can kind of get lost in bigger cities so I think that’s why Hockey Canada likes bringing this event to smaller communities.”

For LeBlanc it will be an even busier week. He says friends and family will be around all week long, and it will serve as the first time he will get to don the Canada red as a member of the national team.

“It’s unreal,” he says on getting to play in front of family. “I love my province and I love my country and I get to do both of them in my province so really it is the best of both worlds.”

“I think it’s really nice for him to be able to show his skills and show everyone what he does live in front of his whole community,” Jacobs-Webb says of his teammate. “I think it is a great opportunity for him.”

Tickets for all the games can be purchased at the qplex or online. Canada will play its first round-robin game at 4 p.m. against China.

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