Photo Credit: James Peake

Whitson's Journey from Player to Coach

Team Canada Paralympian transitions from on the ice to behind the bench to help grow the game of women's para ice hockey

September 24, 2020

“We spend a lot of time together but honestly I would not have it any other way,” says Tara Chisholm, head coach of the Women’s National Canadian Para Hockey Team. The person Chisholm is referring to is her associate coach, Derek Whitson, who also just happens to be her fiancé and business partner for their local non-profit adaptive sport organization. Chisholm and Whitson started coaching Team Canada together in 2014 after Whitson had introduced Chisholm to the program initially.


“Derek is an unbelievable coach. His past experience as a para ice hockey Paralympian of course is invaluable but it is more than that. When he first started coaching the national team he was a little unsure of how he was going to translate his knowledge that came naturally to him as a player to the women. It took him a couple of years to shift from a player’s mindset of looking at the game to a coach mindset but now he’s got it down pat,” said Chisholm.


Photo by: Monica Sparling

When asking about what makes Whitson a great coach, Chisholm expanded on Whitson being a great balance to what she brings. “We are a bit opposite when it comes to our coaching styles,” explains Chisholm. “I am very structured and often appear to be quite serious when I am coaching. I’ll look across the ice and see Derek laughing with players as he’s just challenged them to a shooting contest or showing them a stickhandling trick. He is so great at building connection with the women while also getting the best out of them.”


Anyone who knows Whitson will know that it is not just the elite level that he cares about. He has travelled all over Canada and the world working with all ages, genders and skill levels. If he can help someone out he will be there. It is not unusual for him to follow up with them to check in on how they are doing.


“He truly cares about people,” says Chisholm. “Sometimes I find that elite athletes get to a certain level and they may give back in small ways or give to those that they can help get to the elite level. Derek has always had this humility to him that makes him accessible to everyone. It’s just something engrained in him. People can feel it right away that when he is helping you he truly wants to help you however he can.”


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Photo credit: Connor Mah

The World is on Notice:

The Women of Winter are Coming

World Para Ice Hockey has set a goal of hosting the first women's Para ice hockey World Championship in Fall 2021 with hopes of building towards inclusion of women's Para ice hockey in the Paralympic Games

February 9, 2020

The Women’s Canadian Para Ice Hockey (formerly sledge hockey)Team began in 2006 with a group of passionate volunteers deciding that women with physical impairments should also have a chance to represent their country. Fourteen years later, World Para Ice Hockey (WPIH), the international governing body of Para ice hockey, has put the world on notice: Women’s Para Ice Hockey is on the schedule for the 2021/2022 season. On January 29, 2020 WPIH released an update to state that, “WPIH is setting a target to conduct their inaugural Women’s World Championship in October 2021.”

For those that have been around the women’s game over the past decade that last statement may cause some confusion. Has the women’s game not had International Paralympic Committee (IPC) events before? In 2014, the world came to Brampton, Ontario, Canada to take part in the Women’s World Cup and was followed up in 2018 with another World Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic. When it comes to Paralympic sport terminology is very important. The World Cups (2014 and 2018) did not operate under the WPIH rules and regulations such as having athlete classification or equipment checks take place.

World Championships, on the other hand, such as that proposed for October 2021 are critical steps in the pathway to getting a sport accepted into the Paralympic Games. As according to the IPC Handbook (Section 4.3.2.) the “[i]nclusion of new medal events on the Paralympic medal events programme: A new medal event must have been a medal event in at least one World Championship of a Paralympic sport, in order to be considered for inclusion.”

 A world championship being the key words. In order to have an opportunity for the women’s game to be a part of the 2026 Paralympic Games programme at least one world championship must occur before the IPC’s Governing board’s decision on medal events. This typically occurs at least 3 years prior to the upcoming Paralympic Games.

So what now?

A four-team (at least) World Championship needs to take place in the Fall 2021. Team Canada and Team USA who started their programs in 2006 are ready and waiting. Who else? Norway has been developing their women’s team especially in the last 2 seasons and has been a host nation of women’s events in the past. The other frontrunner for a spot at the table is Great Britain who just came underneath the umbrella of Great Britain Para Ice Hockey. This was welcomed news proving to the world that there is room for women under National Federations.

Russia has a budding group of young female Para ice hockey players as part of the youth teams in the country. And as always, no one can count a Paralympic powerhouse like China out of the equation who has a lot of action coming its way with the next Paralympic Games in its country.  Women are also playing in Australia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden.  The world is building momentum and now thanks to WPIH it has a big goal to shoot for. Watch out world…the women of winter are coming.

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Photo credit: Connor Mah

The Future is Bright

Assistant Coach, Derek Whitson, talks about the youngsters on Team Canada and his return to Vancouver for the 10 year anniversary of the 2010 Paralympic Games

December 26, 2019

With a new year upon the horizon, the Canadian national women’s sledge hockey team prepares for an upcoming 3 Game series against Team USA in Richmond, BC, Canada from February 19-23, 2020. The event will be held at the Richmond Olympic Oval and includes a celebration of the 10 year anniversary of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Paralympics.


Team Canada and Team USA will each have training sessions before the 3 game series takes place on February 21 (11:00am PT/1:00pm ET), February 22 (3:00pm PT/6:00pm ET), and February 23, 2020 (10:45am PT/1:45pm ET). Team Canada will also be hosting opportunities to engage with the local public such as a female only mentorship session, open practices and autograph sessions.


Heading back to Vancouver area will be a welcomed trip for assistant coach, Derek Whitson, who took part in his very first Paralympic Games in 2010 as a member of the Canadian national men’s sledge hockey team. Whitson, who in 2010 was a 19 year old rookie, still remembers the impact that Vancouver had on his career.


“It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I had some amazing veterans who took me under their wing and helped to prepare me for the games,” says Whitson. “To be able to come back to Vancouver 10 years later, now helping our women work towards achieving their dreams feels full circle.” One group of athletes that Whitson is really looking forward to working with in Vancouver is the teenagers of the team.


Camille Lalonde (19 years old), Rebecca Sharp (19 years old), Mackenzie Spong (19 years old), Raphaëlle Tousignant (17 years old), and Alyssa White (14 years old), will all be lining up against the Americans come February. Although a young cohort of players, all but one player, has had international experience playing against Team USA last season in Minnesota, USA during a 3 game series.


During that series, Lalonde and Tousignant came out as some of the top point getters of the weekend helping Canada take the series 2-1 over their southern rivals. Sharp, an alternate for Team Canada last season due to injuries, is officially on the Canadian squad this year and ready to prove herself as a full member of the team. Spong, on the other hand, is not a stranger to these North American tilts as the 19 year old is currently in her 5th season as a Team Canada member. The trend of outstanding 14 year old players cracking the Canadian roster has continued as Alyssa White from Winnipeg, MB will be taking the ice in Richmond, BC competing against women more than double her age.


Whitson explains, “When you’re that young, it’s sometimes a blessing in disguise. You don’t have the history of the rivalry in your head. You just go out there and bring what you know you can bring to the team.”

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A Good Problem To Have

Three Team Canada female sledge hockey goalies battle it out for top spot between the pipes.

December 4, 2019

The 2019-2020 Canadian National Women’s Sledge Hockey Team roster has many familiar faces on it. The names speak for themselves when it comes to players such as Team Canada Captain, Christina Picton (Fonthill, Ont.), who this year became the first woman to ever be invited to the Hockey Canada Para Hockey team tryouts. Trailing close behind Picton are the young talents of Alanna Mah (Edmonton, Alta.) and Raphaëlle Tousignant (Terrebonne, Que.) carving their own path as top end players in the sport. Full of experience and composure, the defensive core consisting of Ashley Goure (Chatham, Ont.), Mackenzie Spong (London, Ont.) and Claire Buchanan (Brampton, Ont.) round out a dynamic list of veterans.


However if one scrolls a little bit further down the roster and you will see two new additions joining seasoned netminder, Jessie Gregory (Brantford, Ont.). Team Canada head coach, Tara Chisholm (Medicine Hat, Alta.), was faced with a good problem to have this year when the roster needed to expand to allow three goalies to compete for the top spot. Tracey Arnold (Saskatoon, Sask.) and Devan Doxtator (Font Hill, Ont.) arrived this season ready to push Team Canada to the next level when it came to battling between the posts.


“We really did not know what we were going to do going into selection camp. Being out west we had seen Tracey practice and compete but never at this level. Devan was brand new to the sport but her natural athleticism and tremendously positive attitude was something we could not ignore,” says head coach Chisholm.


This left Chisholm and assistant coach, Derek Whitson (Chatham, Ont.) in a unique position. Do they take three goaltenders for the full season knowing that one may never get to see game time or choose two and allow the third goaltender to develop on their own? The decision was made that Arnold, Doxtator and Gregory would all be rostered to battle it out for the season for the number one and two spots.


“It was a bit of a tricky decision as we know these women are paying their own way to play and the reality is that they may never see their name on a score sheet this season,” Chisholm states. “But now looking at the three of them I am glad we decided to take them all. They’ve built this uniquely quirky relationship between themselves that only goalies could build and are pushing one another to reach for their own personal bests. It’s a really exciting thing to watch.”


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