Kindersley resident Braden Close returned to his hometown early this week with the look of victory on his face, and it’s no wonder he’s so happy.
The 22-year-old played a key role in Alberta Sledge nabbing its 3rd National Title in Canada Sledge Hockey this past weekend.
Close had just returned to the Alberta Sledge team after a brief stint on Canada’s National Team for Para Hockey when the Alberta team was called to Vancouver, B.C. to defend its two-time national title in Canadian Sledge Hockey.
The 2018 Championship title was tightly contested by three other provinces, Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. “When you are talking a national level of anything, you know it’s going to be tough, and last weekend wasn’t any different.” Close said Alberta Sledge knew the tough pull ahead of it, and so the team pushed hard in training during the days and weekend before the event.
The dedication and teamwork of Alberta Sledge paid off, the first two preliminary games were shut-out victories for Alberta, as it took an 8-0 lead over British Columbia and then a 4-0 lead over Quebec. The third game found Alberta leaving it all out on the ice as the team from Ontario locked with Alberta 2-2 until nearly the end of the third period. Close, a forward, managed to secure the winning score just minutes before the game ended.
Close said it was a game he wouldn’t soon forget. “Having played the winning shot has been a huge plus for me on a personal level,” he said.
Since it was just the four teams vying for the national title, Alberta again met B.C., this time for the semi-finals, and tipped the board 6-1 in its favor. Sunday’s game, the game for the gold medal and title, had all the elements of a national-level game, including the nail-biting, hair-raising moments of equally-determined teams locked in a desperate 0-0 struggle.
In the end, Alberta scored the poignant shot and held its lead long enough to nab the 2018 Canadian Sledge Hockey Championship National title with a 5-0 weekend record to its name.
When asked why he thought Alberta did so well at nationals, Close said he figured it was a tribute to the coaching staff and the close-knit relationship of the team. “Many of the guys on the team have been here for three years, we are good friends, and we all know what we need to do.” Close also said the rigorous training the Alberta Team does to keep the team strong and going hard when the other teams started to lag during the demanding weekend helped.
Alberta Sledge’s Head Coach Steve Arsenault agreed with Close’s assessment of the weekend. “Last weekend’s success started last September and carried throughout the year, each of the team members came fit and then pushed himself to his limit at each of our monthly camps. So by the time we hit nationals, we were ready to go. Every success comes because of a group effort, an effort of the coaching staff, of each player, and the leaders within the players.”
The national title marks the end of the season for Close, who is looking forward to a rest, as all good athletes do. Far from whiling the summer away, however, Close plans to hit the gym within a few weeks, as he is considering trying out for Team Canada for the upcoming Paralympics.
Feature Image: Photo Credit – Gerry Kripps/Alberta Sledge Facebook Page
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