While sledge hockey is still growing in popularity, the most demanding position may be the one of goaltender. Benoit St Amand is not just the goaltender of the Canadian national sledge hockey team, but he is also one of its veterans.
Getting used to the goaltender position is one that takes adjustment. “I once played able bodied hockey," he says. "In this game, there are different movements. To move laterally can be difficult with the sled. The key is to be in front of the puck. After awhile, with good coaching, you get used to it.”
Having played with the Canadian national sledge hockey team since 2004, St. Amand has been part of the growth of the program. He was part of the roster that claimed the gold medal at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Torino.
Following Torino, other gold medals followed. He would claim gold at the 2007 World Sledge Hockey Challenge, the 2008 IPC World Sledge Hockey Championships (a career first), and the 2008 World Sledge Hockey Challenge.
Another banner year would follow in 2009. St. Amand was part of gold medal winners at the 2009 Four Nations Tournament in Nagano, Japan, and the 2009 Hockey Canada Cup in Vancouver, Canada.
As part of the sledge hockey team that competed at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games, expectations were very high. Despite a heartbreaking fourth place finish, St. Amand reflects on it with dignity.
“Fourth place is not what we were aiming for. With Japan finishing second, it was a good sign for sledge hockey because it shows that countries are taking this sport seriously, which is nice to see.”
“If Vancouver helped to bring more exposure for Paralympic sports, that is fine with me. The more players get involved; the more it helps grow the movement. Vancouver certainly helped grow exposure throughout the world.”
Hailing from Quebec, he has seen the interest in sledge hockey grow: “In the last five or six years, the interest in sledge hockey has grown. Where they may have been 20 players in one area ten years ago, today there are over 150. The evolvement of the sport is great. The more players we can get, the more competitive we can get. There is a good future for sledge hockey.”
As a teenager, he was diagnosed with bone cancer and had his right leg amputated below the knee. Currently, he is a spokesperson for the Foundation Charles-Bruneau, a cause which assists those with pediatric cancer.
“I had played able bodied hockey before I lost my leg to cancer. When I lost my leg, it took a few years to get my health back. This is currently my ninth season on the national team. Losing my leg may not have been a bad thing after all.”
In January 2013, the year started well for St. Amand and his teammates. A three-game series versus Norway was held in La Baie, Quebec from January 17 to 19. St. Amand was between the pipes for all three wins as Canada swept the Norwegians.
As the team looks to claim the gold medal at the 2013 World Sledge Hockey Championships in Korea, St. Amand brings great acumen to the game. “I do not speak a lot, but I try to be as mentally ready and physically ready as I can for a game. I know my teammates are ready, and I have to be as ready as they are.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”