TORONTO â€” Brad Bowden wasn’t sure how he would fare when he was first asked by head coach Ken Babey to change his role with Canada’s national team.
The transition has him looking like para ice hockey’s version of Norris Trophy candidate Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks.
Like Burns, Bowden started his hockey career as a forward but eventually slid back onto defence at the request of his coach. The change has paid off for Bowden, who’s eating up extra minutes on the ice and still putting up points.
“I’m embracing the change,” said the 33-year-old from Orton, Ont. “I played one position for so long. Our coach is a smart guy and if he thinks it’s better for me to be back (on defence) then why would I be against that? I think it’s cool he trusts me in a new position.”
“I’ve got the green light to jump in and help the forwards create offence.”
Bowden and the Canadian crew will be competing at the 2017 para ice hockey world championship in Gangneung, South Korea, with their tournament opener Tuesday against Norway.
This is the first world championship to take place since the International Paralympic Committee rebranded the sport in November. Once known as sledge hockey to Canadians and many worldwide, the IPC wants to move forward with the sport known globally as para ice hockey.
The United States will be Canada’s toughest competition at the seven-nation tournament. The two powerhouses have slugged it out in para ice hockey for over a decade and the U.S. enters as the defending world and Paralympic champions.
In December, the Americans beat Canada in the gold-medal game at the world sledge hockey challenge. Bowden tied Canada captain Greg Westlake for the team lead in scoring with nine points in four games. He also found himself on the ice for over half of each 45-minute game. His responsibilities could increase even more at the world championships with Canada dressing 10 forwards and five defenceman.
“I have a good feeling about this tournament, more than any other tournament,” said the 18-year-national team veteran.
“I feel like our chances are really good. I think we’re really prepared. I think losing to the States on national television a couple months was tough to swallow. You learn a lot from losing.”
Bowden is one of the most decorated athletes in Canadian amateur sport. He’s won Paralympic gold in both para ice hockey (2006) and wheelchair basketball (2004), to go along with numerous spots on the podium at other international events. But with it being four years since tasting gold at the worlds, he’s eager to feel that joy once again.
“I want to go away and win and have that moment again where we can be happy and celebrate,” he said.
Canada is coming off silver at the last world championship in 2015 and hasn’t won the event since 2013. Russia claimed bronze in 2015, but is suspended from competition because of doping violations, which opens up a podium spot for the other competing countries.
Since its introduction in 1996, the worlds have been held eight times. Canada has medalled in seven of them, winning three golds (2000, 2008, 2013), one silver (2015), and three bronze (1996, 2009, 2012).
Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press