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Greg Westlake Aiming For Paralympic Gold In Sochi

Westlake Paralympian Sochi 2014 Oakville News
Westlake Paralympian Sochi 2014 Oakville News

When Canada takes Sweden on March 8th, it will do so with great representation from Oakville, Ontario.

No, it's not for ice hockey, with John Tavares representing the men's gold medalists, or Brianne Jenner scoring the first of three goals in Canada's eventual comeback over the Americans on the women's side. For Oakville's Greg Westlake, he hopes the Canadian Sledge Hockey team can make it 3-for-3 in hockey in Sochi, Russia this winter.

"Playing for Hockey Canada means that the expectation is always a gold medal," Greg said. "The expectations can be exhausting, but at the same time it really makes you train harder, and forces you to become a better athlete."

Like many kids growing up in Canada, Westlake began skating at the age of three and would begin playing ice and roller hockey shortly after. He switched to sledge hockey when he became 15, and with the opportunity to represent his country at the Paralympics getting closer and closer, he ran with it.

"(My parents)  told me about the sport and convinced me to give it a shot. When I tried it and found it really difficult to adjust to, they encouraged me to keep going with it. Without their positive influence and unwavering belief in me, there is no way I would be where I am today."

Westlake, who trains at Canlan Ice sports in Oakville, first won gold with Canada at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, Italy. In five games during the tournament, Westlake put up three goals and eight points in just five games of action. It would only get better for the Canadian offensive threat, who has over 200 points to his credit in international competition. In 2008, with only eight seconds remaining in the World Championship final, he scored the game-winning goal against Norway to give his country gold once again.

"Anytime you win a world title is a big deal," Westlake said, with gold obviously on his mind for 2014. "I won a gold medal in Torino when I was 18 years old and my whole family was in attendance, so sharing that moment with them was very special."

After being named the Most Outstanding player at the 2013 World Championships, in which Canada also won gold, Westlake is hoping to continue the success in Sochi during the next few weeks. Westlake, who was named Canada's captain back in 2011, will lead a team of 17 hopefuls looking to improve on their 2010 performance that saw them finish a measly fourth in front of the home crowd in Vancouver.

Off the ice, Westlake, who had both legs amputated when he was only 18 months old, has helped run events to promote the game throughout the country.

"I've seen a big change since the Vancouver Olympics. That was our first chance to get real big exposure. I used to tell people I played for Team Canada sledge hockey and they'd say, 'What's sledge hockey?' Now they at least know what it is," he told back in 2013. "We don't get a ton of televised games, but people know what the sport is. They have a healthy respect for it and they understand the athleticism it takes to play.

"Over the next ten years, I hope the game continues to get more airtime on TV, I hope more countries continue to grow the game, we already have a number of very competitive countries, but still need it to get bigger. Also, for the athletes in Canada I hope more corporate sponsorship opportunities come up for the players on Team Canada. We have incredible athletes with incredible stories and they deserve some more financial backing so that they can continue to represent Canada to the best of their ability."

Sledge Hockey at the 2014 Paralympics kicks off on March 8th, with the gold medal contest set for March 15th. While Canadian viewers will be left without TV coverage, it is expected that viewers can catch parts of the tournament from American NBC affiliates, as well as online coverage on the tournament's official website.