By Auren Halbert (as told to Katherine Dolan)
The day of team selection was one of the most nerve-wracking days of my life.
We sat in the Team Canada locker rooms and the coaches called players out one by one to let us know if we had made Team Canada’s Para Hockey Team. Unfortunately, if you were called out, that meant you were cut from the team.
Once everyone was called out, the coaches came back in and gave us the word that we all made the National Team. The room exploded! Everyone left started cheering, shaking hands, giving hugs and congratulations.
It was a surreal experience because it was always my dream to play for Team Canada and now it is my reality. All my hard work and persistence is finally paying off, so making the team is incredibly gratifying. This December I will put on the Team Canada jersey and get to play for my country at the 2019 Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup in Paradise, N.L.
At sixteen years old, I am the youngest player on the team but my dream to get here, started when I was just a boy.
Growing up I was a big hockey fan and always watched as many games as my parents would let me watch. My favourite family activity was watching the Calgary Flames, our hometown team. I knew all the players, all the stats and I collected hockey cards that I memorized the names of all the players.
It was always my favourite sport, but I couldn’t play it the same way other kids my age could. I was born with a condition called PFFD which basically means when I was born, my leg was not fully developed. I had multiple surgeries when I was young and I’ve had multiple surgeries as well these last four years. My leg is short and didn’t grow all the way so I basically have half a leg.
I was always very athletic growing up, I wanted to get out there and compete with my friends and play soccer. I really did like playing soccer, but the natural progression of kids my age meant they got faster and faster every year, so I eventually quit playing soccer.
My parents were always there for me and pushed me no matter what. They never let me make excuses for myself because I had one leg and couldn’t run as fast as the other kids, so together we started doing research about other adaptive sports and found the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association.
When I had previously gone to play hockey, I couldn’t quite figure out how to skate properly on my prosthetic and regular leg. But when I tried sledge hockey I loved it instantly. I was excited to learn everything and to compete in the sport I have loved since I was born. Sledge hockey has opened up a whole new world for me.
Once you got me on the ice, you couldn’t get me off.
It was the most amazing experience getting out there, to be competitive, compete with friends and have a great time. I always had the drive to be the fastest player on the team and score the most goals. I still have that drive.
Two years ago my Dad was offered a work transfer to Pittsburgh, PA so we considered the move. My second favourite hockey team was always the Pittsburgh Penguins and we knew they had a sledge hockey organization so we thought it would be a great opportunity. We haven’t looked back since.
I currently play offence for the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins. We typically compete in the N.E. Sledge Hockey League, so we play teams from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York as well as other teams from across the U.S. and Eastern Canada. The move down has been great because there are more sledge hockey teams here than there was in Western Canada and a lot more competition.
Last season I was practicing with the U.S. Development Team when Hockey Canada called and the timing was perfect for me to be able to try out for Team Canada.
Ever since I started playing, making the Canadian National Team was my dream so I jumped at the chance. I was able to showcase my skills and ended up playing with Canada’s Development Team for the remainder of last season, and it was because of this opportunity, I made the Canadian National Team.
There were times throughout my career that I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I really had to push through.
With the surgeries, I had gained a lot of weight and there were moments it has been really tough and I’ve been down on myself. My biggest supporters have always been my parents and it’s because of them, I have pushed through.
One thing that has also helped me when times are tough is to work regularly on mindset and mentality. Figuring out what makes me function at a high level both physically and mentally on the ice has been so important to my development. I journal daily, I meditate daily and I try to get my thoughts clear every day for what’s coming up in life as well as when I play games.
Managing to push through, keep going and keep following my dreams has been the greatest achievement in my early hockey career. I can’t wait to put on the jersey for Canada hopefully for many years to come and show just what I can do for the team and for my country.
See you in Paradise,