In 2019, Team Canada and Team USA were on the ice in Ostrava in the Czech Republic playing for gold at the World Para Ice Hockey Championship.
The game went to overtime and the Americans celebrated a 3-2 win.
That game and the moment that ended it has been hanging with every Canadian player on the ice for more than two years now.
“Those moments and those losses do kind of linger,” describes Team Canada captain and Forest, Ont., native Tyler McGregor. “That was our last major tournament that we competed at so it has lived in the back of our minds for a little longer than we might have hoped.”
May 4, 2019, to June 19, 2021.
That’s a long span of time in sports. Add in a pandemic and it feels even longer. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented any competition in 2020, but McGregor believes more positives have come out of the break than negatives.
“Honestly we’ve come such a long way,” says McGregor. “Being forced into isolation allowed us to focus in on skill development and other areas where we needed to grow. I love where our team is at right now.”
McGregor also looks at the strides that young players like Corbyn Smith of Monkton, Ont., and James Dunn of Wallacetown, Ont., have made and that has him feeling encouraged.
“They are younger players on our team and I’ve had the opportunity to spend a little bit more time with them over the past year and a half and I have to say watching their development and then seeing their progress once we got here (to the Czech Republic) has been incredible.”
Canada will open this edition of the World Championship against the same team they finished against in 2019 as they meet the United States on July 19 at 9 a.m ET.
After that will be a matchup with South Korea on July 20 and then a final group-stage game against host Czech Republic on July 22.
Team Canada may have more than just the loss to the Americans at the last World Championship on their mind. The U.S. also edged Canada in overtime for gold at the 2018 Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
We’ve been on the wrong side of those,” admits McGregor. “But it allowed us to take a step back and focus on us and not focus on the U.S. and what they were doing and really improve as a team and come together. It’s pretty exciting to start the tournament against your biggest rival and your toughness opponent.”
Canada and the United States are tied atop the all-time medal standings at the Worlds with four golds apiece — they can both lay claim to who owns the tiebreaker. Canada has won nine medals in total. The U.S. owns one extra silver.
More than anything McGregor is just happy to be preparing to play again.
“It has been a year and a half since we competed last so it’s so refreshing to be back in a competitive environment and we certainly don’t take that for granted. We know not everybody in the world has that luxury so we’re going to try to cherish this.”