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Canada looking for gold at World Sledge Hockey Challenge

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The Canadian Press
11/29/2012 1:52:38 PM
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Greg Westlake would like Brad Bowden to score for himself occasionally.

He really would.

"I try to pass him the puck to get him some goals back but I don't think he's going to shoot it. He's just going to come back to me every time. He's probably the least selfish guy in the world," Westlake said this week as he prepares for the four-team World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Calgary.

"I try to put myself in a position to score goals, he enjoys playmaking and neither of us, at the end of the day, really cares who gets the shot."

Westlake and Bowden pack a potent one-two punch for Canada that earned top spot at the same event last year, when they downed the powerful U.S. team 4-1.

"I think Brad is probably one of the easiest and obviously one of the best guys to play with in the world."

Every now and then Bowden does put a few in the net himself, such as the two that earned Canada gold at last year's Four Nations event in Nagano, Japan.

But he seems to prefer feeding the puck rather than putting it in. At last year's challenge, Bowden led all scorers with his six goals and nine assists, with Westlake right on his heels at eight and six.

The Canadian team that opens against Japan on Sunday is pretty much the same squad that did so well last year, a marked improvement after Canada failed to win a medal at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics.

Westlake is looking for a different result at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

"The turnover from Vancouver till now, it's almost half the team, probably more than half the team," said the native of Oakville, Ont.

"When we get to Russia, I think this group is going to be real good."

One promising new addition is forward Tyler McGregor from Forest, Ont., at 18 the youngest player on the team.

"Growing up, I always dreamed of playing for Team Canada, so to have an opportunity like this is huge for me," he said of the tournament.

McGregor came out of the triple-A system in Ontario and was playing midget when he broke a leg, then learned he had cancer. He lost his left leg and made the transition to sledge,

It hasn't been easy.

"It was definitely a big adjustment," he said. "I found the speed was different, just the technical things, the balance, even the shooting. . . I'm still learning right now. I've got a long way to go."

This is his first international match.

"I'm nervous but I'm really excited at the same time."

Coach Mike Mondin likes what he sees, with the team in general and McGregor specifically.

"We just had a training camp in Trail (B.C.) and it was a tremendous success," he said.

"The players came in excellent shape and they worked hard all week and we got a lot accomplished."

He suggests McGregor could increase the Canadian team's already considerable firepower. Other returning veterans include forward Billy Bridges and defenceman Adam Dixon.

"We're pretty excited about what he (McGregor) brings to the team," he said. "He's got some real good instincts from the blue-line in. He's got a nose for the net for sure."

Play at the top level of sledge hockey is very competitive with teams so evenly matched it's hard to say who will come out on top, says Mondin.

Games are close, often decided by a late goal, and the 15-minute periods in sledge hockey mean it can be hard to build momentum.

Canada hasn't won a world championship since 2008 but took a bronze in 2009 and again this year.

The United States has become the team to beat with two straight golds at the most recent world championships. It opens against Norway on Sunday at the challenge.

The finals are next Saturday, Dec. 8.

Greg Westlake (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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