Tanner Fandrey likes to play hockey with a edge. He lives and breathes the game.
The dream of a future in the game has never left the 20-year-old, even if the ability to play stand up hockey did.
At 13, the Red Deer native was diagnosed with an incurable spinal condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis, where over time, the vertebrae of the spine fuse together and make the spine less flexible. On top of that he also developed a degenerative hip condition. The combination proved temporarily dream crushing.
No doctor would clear him to play hockey.
Not long after, Fandrey discovered sledge hockey.
When he turns 21 later this month, the defenceman will have returned from his second stint with the Canadian National Sledge Hockey Development team.
He first played with the program a few years ago, then last week was one of 30 players invited to a NextGen six-day camp. After the camp, he was one of 16 players selected to take on the United States in a three-game weekend series.
“Pretty excited to be invited back. Last year I had an unfortunate disappointment and didn’t make the team. To make it this year was a regroup for me and a refocus to push forward with Hockey Canada and my career and with the national team eventually,” he said.
The hockey dream was still clearly in focus for Fandrey.
He added camp was intense and super competitive, but with a large crop of young players, they didn’t exactly have their best weekend against the U.S. The team was shutout three times.
“To see the drive and passion out of a lot of these players is pretty impressive for myself. That’s what I think has really pushed me to the top of my game. To compete against them and to earn a spot here as well as all the other guys, really pushing each other and working towards a common goal to beat the U.S,” he said.
“It’s crazy competitive. We had some intersquad games to select the team, even though we are buddies off the ice, we are still out there competing and smashing bodies, playing really hard to compete for our spot on the team.”
Those friends he’s made off the ice, are a moment of pride for Fandrey. He thrives on watching his teammates succeed, all while each pursue the game they love.
“I just love that all of us still get to play hockey. Lots of us have played hockey prior and had an injury or condition that has ended our career in stand up hockey. Being able to play hockey again is absolutely awesome,” he said.
While he plays regularly in Edmonton on a club team, it’s clear Fandrey hopes to wear the red and white on a more regular basis.
That’s a long way from the kid who struggled at first learning to skate on a sledge.
What he didn’t struggle with was the hockey IQ.
“The hockey itself doesn’t change very much. For me as a defenceman the angles must be a lot more precise because we can’t skate backwards,” he said, comparing the two sports. “When we are doing a backcheck or another player has the puck, we have to angle them out much more precisely with our hips.”
He cited his mental growth as the biggest hurdle going forward, but also toughness, both mentally and physically as his favourite parts of the sport.
“Just the toughness of the game. It’s not an easy sport,” he said.
“It’s hard on your body. It’s hard on the ice. It’s hard against the boards and there’s more hitting and (it’s) fast. (Just) how tough both mentally and physically a player must be to compete at these levels.”