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GROWING THE GAME

Flames support sledge hockey team in massive U.S. tournament: 'What the Flames have done for us is just absolutely unbelievable. For them to get behind us and give us this opportunity to come down here and play, it's going to help grow the sport immensely.'

by BRENDAN PARKER @BParkerTV / CalgaryFlames.com

ST. LOUIS - There was more than one Calgary Flames team competing in St. Louis this week.

The NHL club kicked off their current four-game road trip on Wednesday night against the Blues, while another Flames team made their debut in a massive North American tournament.

The 10th Annual USA Hockey Sled Classic, presented by the NHL, is taking place just outside of downtown St. Louis this weekend.

A record 31 teams and nearly 350 athletes are competing in the event, representing 19 NHL member clubs including the Flames, their affiliated entry one of six teams playing in the Tier 1 division.

"To have these guys down here and be able to compete at the highest level, it's unreal," said player-coach Chris Cederstrand. "For some of these guys this is as good as it gets, so it's a surreal thing."

It's the first time a Tier 1 team from Canada has competed in the NHL Sled Classic.

"It's definitely a good opportunity," said forward Cody Dolan. "I mean other than national or international tournaments, this is arguably one of the biggest tournaments in North America for sledge hockey, so for some of our guys who have never travelled for the sport it's definitely an opportunity to see some big competition."

It's the first time Calgary has sent a team, and wearing the Flaming 'C' is a huge honour for everyone involved.

"Every pro athlete has that moment when they walk in a dressing room and see their name over the stall and see their jersey hanging and it's just that moment in time that you'll never forget in your entire life, and these guys had that moment," said head coach Brad Layzell.

And as luck would have it - with the big club in town at the same time, all 13 members of the team ( players and coaches) were able to attend Wednesday's Flames-Blues game as a group, proudly representing the Flames.

"It's an incredible thing," Cederstrand explained. "Every kid dreams of playing in the NHL when they grow up and to be able to throw on that jersey and to have this jacket on and be at a Flames game and representing a team is really a surreal experience."

"It's a dream come true. You can see it just walking in, it's a swagger that they have now too," Layzell said. "They really feel like they're part of something special... for these guys to get new jerseys, to get the track suits to really feel like part of the team, and to just be here at the game, it's incredible."

The team is made up of players from the non-profit PX3 AMP Sledge Hockey Academy, where part of the goal is continue to help grow the sport of sledge hockey not only in the province of Alberta but across the entire country.

"I think it's definitely going to help grow the game across the country and get more NHL teams involved, specifically in the east coast, there are a lot of guys over there who can benefit from the opportunity and I think this experience here is going to prove to them that it's well worth it," said Dolan. 

 

Video: Flames proud to help grow the sport

 

Cederstrand, a former member of the national teamvwho continues to work with young players in the province, can already envision the future.

"What the Flames have done for us is just absolutely unbelievable," he said. "For them to get behind us and give us this opportunity to come down here and play, it's going to help grow the sport immensely. Hopefully next year we can get a few teams down here, get some of the young kids down here and just give them an unbelievable experience and get the other teams on board throughout Canada where we can really grow the sport that way."

And this Flames team isn't here to just participate.

"I can tell you from the moment we stepped foot in St. Louis, it's been all business," said Layzell. "These guys are here on a mission and we're not taking this for granted that's for sure. It's an amazing opportunity."

The tournament runs all weekend long with the championship games being played on Sunday.

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