Canada looks to defend para-hockey title at world championship in Czech Republic

Canada forward Dominic Cozzolino keeps his 2018 Paralympic silver medal tucked away in his bedroom. Thoughts of last year’s crushing loss to the United States come flooding back every time he sees it.

“I bring it out every now and again just to remember what that feeling was like,” Cozzolino said. “Honestly I use it as a big motivational tool now. When I look at it, it brings back those feelings of the Americans scoring in overtime. I don’t want to let that happen again.”

The Beijing Paralympics are still three years away but the next best thing begins Saturday in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The Americans and Canadians are favoured to meet for gold once again at the IPC world para-hockey championship.

Canada beat the U.S. 4-1 in the 2017 world final in Gangneung, South Korea. The Americans got revenge a year later at the Pyeongchang Paralympics when Declan Farmer scored with 37 seconds left in regulation before adding the winner in overtime.

“It was tough to come back and play that overtime in the first place,” Cozzolino said. “But it was a battle right from the beginning. It could have gone either way. We had chances in overtime that we didn’t bury and it just so happened that they snuck one past us.”

The Americans edged Canada again late last year in the Para Hockey Cup final in London, Ont. The two sides split a two-game series last month in Indian Trail, N.C.

Canada head coach Ken Babey will have a mix of veterans and youngsters on his 17-man world championship roster, including 12 players from the 2017 team.

“Having to narrow it down is never easy, but the team we put together has the right mix of skill, speed and experience to give us the best chance at a gold medal,” Babey said. “They’ve been putting in the work individually, and their improvement over the season has been noticeable on the ice.

“We’re confident that our individual abilities, team tactics and team spirit will give us an opportunity to compete for gold.”

Cozzolino, Tyler McGregor and veteran Billy Bridges will help anchor Canada’s offensive attack. Defencemen Rod Crane and Zach Lavin are making their world championship debut along with forwards Antoine Lehoux and Garrett Riley.

Canada opens its preliminary round schedule against the United States on Saturday at the Ostravar Arena.

“We really battle when we get together with them,” Cozzolino said in a recent interview. “We’re the top two in our sport so every time we meet up we want to prove ourselves. I’m sure they’re the same way.

“They’re definitely fast, physical and usually high-scoring games with a lot of skill. It’s awesome to watch I’m sure, but it’s even better to be a part of.”

South Korea and Norway are also in Group A. The host Czechs are in the weaker Group B with Italy, Japan and Sweden.

The top two finishers in Group A will advance directly to the semifinals. The third-place team in Group A will play the second-place team in Group B in one quarterfinal and the fourth-place team in Group A will meet the Group B leader in the other.

Medal games are scheduled for May 4.

Canada is a four-time gold medallist at the world championship (2000, ‘08, ‘13 and ‘17).

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