TORONTO – It’s the NFL Scouting Combine of Paralympic sport and for coaches such as former NHLer Mike Foligno, the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s Paralympian Search is an opportunity to see and potentially convince a future player to join the Para ice hockey squad.
“The athletes here are interested in making a commitment to a certain sport and our sport is an option,” said Foligno, Canada’s national Para ice hockey development coach. “We offer the team sport option which encompasses helping yourself and others to be the best they can be.”
The most recent Paralympian Search was held on Saturday (October 27) at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, and co-hosted with the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario. It is a one-day athlete identification event designed to test participant aptitudes to excel in various Paralympic sports, and maybe one day represent Canada at the Paralympic Games.
Para ice hockey is certainly one of the more popular attractions for potential para athletes.
‘’Part of the search is introducing them to what they can do to get themselves ready to play,” said Foligno, a 15-year NHL veteran who played more than 1,000 games. ‘’And of course we get to meet the athlete, learn what their aspirations are, tell them about our sport and what it takes to make our team.”
Adam Frost, Wheelchair Rugby Canada’s NextGen coach, said the Paralympian Search couldn’t have arrived at a better time with the squad currently in a rebuilding phase.
“In wheelchair rugby you need to have a dysfunction on three out of your four limbs so we are looking for a specific type of athlete,” said Frost, based in Vancouver. ‘’We’ve had past success with recruiting athletes from the Search and all it takes is just one to make a difference.’’
Sixteen-year-old Ethan Dobrenski of St. Catharines, Ont., was participating at his first Paralympian Search. Dobrensky has a disability in his right arm and right leg but keeps active playing hockey on the Great Lakes High School team and practicing martial arts such as kickboxing.
He feels his best potential is in Para taekwondo (a new Paralympic Games sport for 2020) but he is open to all suggestions. He did the stationary bike tests, sprints and jump, strength exercises, and handcycling.
“I’ve always known about the Paralympics and grew up watching the Games,’’ he said after his three-hour testing. ‘’I was excited to hear it was coming to Ontario and I wanted to test myself. It’s a really great opportunity.’’
The event also welcomes current or former athletes aiming to transfer into a new Paralympic sport or discover a sport that can complement their main discipline.
That was the case for Abi Tripp of Kingston, Ont., a member of Canada’s national Para swimming team who competed at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.
‘’I just love sports,’’ she said. ‘’I think it’s important to play and train in different sports because it keeps the preparation process interesting. I’ve really come here to see what could be an ideal cross-training option for my swimming.’’
Event ambassador and 2016 Paralympic Games sprinter Marissa Papaconstantinou welcomed the 20 participants on Saturday and encouraged them throughout the day.
“This is the first step. Soak it in, embrace it and go for your personal bests,’’ she told them.
Full Story: Canadian Paralympic Committee