By Alison Taylor
The president of Hockey Canada, responsible for the Canadian Paralympic sledge hockey program, has put out a challenge to Whistler and to Olympic organizers to make 2010 the best Paralympics the world has ever seen.
“We should challenge everyone to make sure it’s the biggest and best Paralympics, and I guess from my side I’m a little selfish, for the sledge hockey program being the best it’s ever been,” said Bob Nicholson.
Whether that means moving some of the sledge hockey games to larger venues in Vancouver or building a bigger arena in Whistler or bringing Jumbotrons to the resort for spectators outside the arena, Nicholson is undecided.
But after seeing the men’s gold medal sledge hockey game firsthand in Torino, along with 4,100 excited fans, he believes there is an opportunity in 2010 to profile and grow the sport, to the rest of Canada and the world.
It was in Italy nearly two weeks ago that Nicholson first floated the idea that because of the popularity of sledge hockey, particularly the hugely successful Canadian men’s team who took home the gold medal, perhaps the semifinals and the medal rounds in 2010 should be moved to Vancouver where a bigger audience could see them.
The current plans are to hold the sledge hockey in a brand new Whistler arena in the village with enough seats for 2,750. Whistler is still in the design stage of that arena.
“My comment to (moving some events) to GM Place, I think there’s some positive (in that),” said Nicholson. “But I think if you worked with the community of Whistler, hopefully they come up with other ideas and ways to do it to grow the sport (that) would be attractive to play games in Whistler. And I guess that’s what I throw back to them. We should look at what’s best for everybody.”
When asked if that means Whistler building a bigger venue, Nicholson said: “Could be. I don’t know.”
It could also mean bringing in Jumbotrons, holding other festivals and events to promote the sport and enticing the TV media to pick up on it too, he said.
“I think Canadians are going to really, really enjoy this,” said Nicholson. “It’s certainly on my agenda to talk with CTV who will own the (broadcast) rights. I want to make sure that these games get publicized right across Canada because I think all Canadians would love to see this competition.”
Local Paralympian Stacy Kohut, who was in Torino covering the Paralympics for CBC, believes the athletes should be in a bigger venue.