Tom Gabriel took up the sport of sledge hockey seven years ago at the suggestion of some friends, and today he’s carrying the banner for Sarnia on the Team Ontario Sledge Hockey squad.
Gabriel was named to the 16-player provincial team this season following a recent selection camp in the GTA.
“I love it,” said the Grade 12 student at St. Clair Secondary.
He is unable to play regular hockey because a mild form of cerebral palsy affects his legs and ankles.
The players gather once a month to play high-level competition from other provinces and teams from the United States.
Ontario has already had camps in Newmarket, Gravenhurst and London this year, and will take on a squad from Florida during a camp in Stoney Creek, near Hamilton, in January.
Gabriel, a right winger, describes himself as a shooter, but is trying to heed the call of his coaching staff to use his 6'1”, 175 lb. frame to play a more physical brand of sledge hockey.
“I'm kind of shy to hit people,” he said. “But I'm trying to become more physical.”
The 17-year-old says he is also working on using his non-dominant hand more effectively to have a chance to realize his ultimate goal.
“I hope to some day play on Team Canada,” he said. “But if you want to play for Canada, you have to be able to use both hands.”
Gabriel plays his club sledge hockey in London, and despite a 1-4 start this season, says the team remains upbeat because after a similar start last season they caught fire in the second half and went on to capture the provincial title.
This is the second year in a row Sarnia has been represented on Team Ontario.
Dylan Kett was a member of the provincial team last season.