Kindersley resident Braden Close has a busy three weeks coming up as he represents Canada in the 2018 Défi sportif AlterGo game series against the United States, before going on to defend the two-time national title for Alberta Sledge.
Close plays sledge hockey, a sport that mimics Canada’s iconic sport, but is different in a few ways–the most noticeable being the players skate by sitting on an ingenious frame made of light-gauge aluminum, consisting of a customized bucket to sit in. A backrest can be used depending on the ability of the athlete. A frame supports the bucket, legs and feet, and is mounted on two skate blades attached under the bucket. Straps keep the player secure in the sled. Players then propel themselves forward with the blunt end of their sticks. Close was among the few that started the Sledge Hockey program in Kindersley back in the early 2000s when he was roughly eight years old. Close moved to the Alberta Sledge hockey team in his late teens as it was able to provide the higher level of competition Close was looking for.
Close has been playing hockey for at least 15 years and has become good at it, quite good in fact. In April at an intense try-out camp in Montreal the 22-year-old forward successfully became part of Team Canada after only a few days. The para hockey development team is just one step below the Paralympic level, so Close was ecstatic to receive the news.
“It was a great feeling to pull on the Canada Jersey and know that I was representing my country in the Sledge Hockey sport,” Close said in a recent interview.
Even though the newly assembled Team Canada put up a good fight at the 2018 Défi sportif AlterGo game series against Team American on April 27-29, the event results didn’t go in Canada’s favor. The team lost two out of the three games, but each game was a tight struggle, so Close says that he still felt good about the weekend.
“As a player, I felt the weekend provided me some good skill rounding experiences, I played more defensively during the event, so it was a cool feeling to try out a different role. The goal of the para hockey national development team is to develop players, and I think the weekend did that.”
Now, Close is turning his attention to defending the two-time national title for Alberta Sledge Hockey this weekend. Close attended the training camp last weekend, and felt good about the results of the intense training period, but isn’t counting his chickens before they hatch.
“Obviously, even though we feel good about the results we have had in the past and how well our training period went, we know that this will not be a ‘no-brainer’ weekend for us. There are a lot of strong teams out there so we will need to use every skill we have learned and do our absolute best every time.”
While the warm season prevents Close from practising on the ice, he says working out in the gym and keeping himself healthy, sharp and alert go a long way to prepare him for the tough weekend ahead. The 2018 Canadian Sledge Hockey Championships will be held in Vancouver, B.C., and Close’s team is planned to battle with British Columbia and Quebec on Friday, May 11, followed by a game with Ontario on Saturday, from there the team’s points will decide what further games they will play. The Champions will be decided on Sunday, May 13.
Feature Image: Alberta Sledge Facebook Page
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