Tracy Arnold has always loved hockey.
And thanks to her discovery of sledge hockey a few years ago, she is able to play the sport once again.
Now she’s taking her sledge hockey skills to a top level of the sport.
Arnold, a former Glen Ewen resident who now resides in Saskatoon, was one of three goaltenders selected by Women's Sledge Hockey of Canada to be part of the national women's para ice hockey team for the 2019-20 season. She is the first player from Saskatchewan to be selected.
“I went to an open tryout – it’s like a selection camp for the women’s national team this year – and I’ve been in contact with the coaches for approximately three years here. They have been giving me coaching and stuff, so they have been preparing for what to expect for the level of competition,” said Arnold.
The open tryout was a three-day gathering with two skills sessions and two games. The players were divided into two teams, Team Red and Team White. It was also a good opportunity to get to know some of the players on the team and others who were trying out.
Arnold was an avid hockey player when she was growing up in southeast Saskatchewan. But when she was 12, her family was involved in a serious car accident that left her paralyzed due to an incomplete spinal cord injury.
A lot of her recovery happened with the support of her school and her family and friends in the southeast.
After the collision, and before she tried out sledge hockey, Arnold went into arm wrestling. She won national championships and even competed on the world stage, where she earned silver and bronze medals. While she is no longer a competitor, she is still actively involved with the sport.
“I just found out about five years ago that there was a sledge hockey team in Saskatoon, and I was interested in going and trying it out and getting back on the ice. That’s where it went. I was looking to expand for what I was doing sport-wise, and I was able to go back to my roots of playing hockey.”
When she played hockey as a youth, she played defence or left wing. Even in her first year of para-hockey, she patrolled the blue line.
“The next season, we were short goalies, so I thought I would give it a try, and I’ve been loving it ever since,” she said.
The goaltender position is very different in sledge hockey. For starters, she is in the sledge, so she can’t kick out a leg to stop a shot. She actually needs to move her whole body. When in goal, she sits about halfway in the net, so there is a lot of space above her to cover.
But there are similarities in terms of watching the puck and being conscious of angles when it’s heading towards the goal.
The best part of being a goalie is the demands it places on her individually while still playing a team sport.
“It’s very challenging mentally as well. It can be one-on-one shots, or it can be two-on-one, so it’s staying in the game and preparing for the angles. So I really do enjoy the mental aspect of it as well,” she said.
It’s a great feeling to know that she was the first Saskatchewan player to be named part of the team, and she is honoured to receive the distinction.
“I do feel like there’s more pressure now, which isn’t a bad thing,” she said.
Other Saskatchewan players would have been deserving as well, she said, but sledge hockey is still developing in this province. She hopes her selection to the national team will create more support for women or girls who are interested in trying out for Team Canada, or trying the sport for the first time.
It’s a growing sport in the province. Several teams for adults and youths exist in the province. The squads aren’t limited to the big cities; there are also adult teams in communities like Kindersley, Bruno and Cut Knife, and youth teams in Kindersley, Swift Current and Melfort.
“There’s a lot more awareness, and a lot more people joining the sport. And it’s open for able-bodied people as well to play it. What it does is it creates a level playing field for anyone able-bodied or who has a disability, so that everyone can play together.”
Arnold and the other members of Team Canada will be heading to Bridgewater, N.S., in October for the first training camp of the season, which will include an exhibition series.
In February, Team Canada will face off against the U.S. in British Columbia.
Arnold hasn’t been given an indication how much she will be playing. A starting goalie hasn’t been selected.
She’s looking forward to continuing to further her skills in the sport with Team Canada, and she is also excited to see the sport grow in this province.