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Para Hockey athletes push for provincial COVID-19 exemption to return to ice

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Para-hockey athletes push for provincial exemption to return to ice' COVID-19: Para-hockey athletes push for provincial exemption to return to ice
WATCH: With more minor sports being shelved this week, a Calgary group is speaking out about the mental and physical toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on athletes with disabilities. As Cami Kepke reports, they want the province to revisit their application to return to play – Feb 5, 2021

With minor hockey on pause across Alberta, outdoor rinks have provided an escape for players of all ages.

But for Calgary Para Hockey players, that’s not always an option.

Read more: COVID-19: Hockey Alberta cancels minor hockey games for remainder of season

“It’s been pretty tough for people with disabilities,” retired Team Canada sledge player Chris Cederstrand said from a southeast outdoor rink.

“Me and Zach are pretty lucky, we’re able to walk around, we’re able to potentially get out to an ODR or something like that.

“A lot of the guys that we know and that we train are in a wheelchair. You’re really sort of stuck in what you can do.”

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Now a coach with AMP Hockey Academy, Cederstrand and current Team Canada member Zach Lavin are pushing for Para Hockey players to return to the ice.

Click to play video: 'Hockey Alberta cancels minor hockey games for remainder of season' Hockey Alberta cancels minor hockey games for remainder of season
Hockey Alberta cancels minor hockey games for remainder of season – Feb 2, 2021

Both are concerned for the physical and mental health of athletes, especially those who may be taking up a demanding sport like sledge alone.

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“That’s something I think about a lot,” Lavin said. “This is huge for kids to come out in a group of people dealing with similar disabilities to come out, and just have that fun time to be a kid or just enjoy the sport.

“When I started out, I had Cedes (Cederstrand) coming to the gym with me, I had Cedes bring me on the ice, I had a bunch of people that I was making friends with… It would have been near impossible, starting out in times like this.”

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Read more: World’s Longest Hockey Game gets exemption from Alberta government amid health measures

Lavin recently wrapped up a bubbled Team Canada camp at WinSport, and says he’s confident strong COVID-19 protocols can work for the national team and grassroots players alike.

“I think we could do it in a safe manner in small groups, especially like in a sledge program,” the 24-year-old added.

Cederstrand says AMP’s sledge program was denied an exemption from the province to continue training and playing games. He still hopes to see that decision reversed.

“We’re a pretty small world. Our training group here in Calgary is maybe a maximum of five, six guys,” Cederstrand explained. “As good as the one-on-one training is, it’s nice to be able to get on the ice and just be with other people.

“A lot of these guys are peer support for each of us.

“We’re all going through our own battles and having these guys out there with us definitely helps in that process.”

In a statement, Alberta Health says the application was denied because of the rising cases in the province in December, noting that health officials will reach out to AMP to discuss health protocols and whether opportunities for limited forms of activity may exist in the future.

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