2022 23 npt team quebec national championship

Growing para hockey in Quebec

Thanks to Maxime Gagnon’s passion for para hockey, he has grown the sport to 150 players in Quebec and hopes to continue developing the game across the country

Shannon Coulter
February 17, 2023

When Maxime Gagnon was approached by a local Montreal club over a decade ago about including para hockey in the Défi sportif AlterGo, he didn’t know anything about the sport. Now, he is one of the biggest advocates of para hockey in Quebec and across the country.

Curious about the sport, Gagnon joined the 11-player club at a tournament in London, Ont., as a coach, since the small team didn’t have one. His introduction to the sport was also his first day he began working with the program in Montreal.

After his time on the bench, he wanted to learn as much about the team as possible. What is the yearly plan? Are there recruitment efforts to get more players? But the players with the small club team said all they did was play the game they loved. Next, he approached Parasports Quebec, but at that point, there wasn’t anyone dedicated towards para hockey.

“At this time, I saw the opportunity,” says Gagnon, who is the director of the Défi sportif AlterGo. “And I said, ‘Let’s go jump [into this].’”

His first call was to the City of Montreal to inquire about ice times for the program.

“They offered us ice time at 8 p.m., so that was good for the guys I had at the time because at the beginning, they played Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m.,” Gagnon says.

Initially, he worked collaboratively with Parasports Quebec and found a club in Laval with more players, but after a few years, Gagnon decided to approach Hockey Quebec.

“The general manager that was there is a good friend of mine, and I said, ‘Why are you not involved with para hockey?’ He said, ‘I don’t know what it is.’ So, we start with him and Hockey Quebec is now the only province that gets 100 per cent involved in para hockey.”

This is the 13th season Gagnon has been involved with para hockey, and there are now about 150 para hockey players across Quebec. The players compete in a five-team league, which is expected to grow to potentially seven teams by next season. In addition to Gagnon’s work with Parahockey Montreal, he is also the head coach of Quebec’s provincial team.

The recruitment of new players is a large reason behind the sport’s growth in the province. When making the league schedule, Gagnon tries to limit crossover with other para sport practices to encourage multi-sport athletes. The league has grown its social media presence over the past few years, too.

Gagnon also has connections with Quebec hospitals and rehab centres to introduce the sport to people who have had life-changing accidents.

“When you are in the hospital or a rehab centre, sometimes you’re the only one who has lost a leg,” he says, adding that seeing para hockey players who have lost their legs for different reasons can help recent amputees adapt to their new lifestyle.

Jonathan Daigle from Boucherville, Que., is a single-leg amputee who started playing para hockey when he was eight years old.

“My mom was looking for a sport for me because since I have a handicap, there was not a lot of sports I could do,” Daigle says. “She was looking for an adaptive sport and she found para hockey.”

Now 14, Daigle has been playing para hockey for six years. With Gagnon’s coaching, he has made huge strides in his development and was a member of Quebec’s provincial team when it won the national championship last May.

“He’s really invested into it,” Daigle says of Gagnon. “He is always busy inviting young people, creating events to recruit young people. And when he sees potential in a young player, he will do everything to make sure you can develop the right way.”

That development at the provincial level has paid off. There are eight Quebec players on Canada’s National Para Hockey Team this season. Daigle will be practicing with Team Canada as a participant in the team’s NextGen development camp taking place this weekend in Montreal.

“Since I was a young kid, it’s been my dream to be a part of the national team,” Daigle says. “This is a step closer to my dream and I think it’s going to be fun and lots of experience for me. I’m just going to do my best.”

For Gagnon, communication is key to help grow the sport in other provinces across the country. He organized the first Zoom call between Member representatives this month to share ideas and challenges together.

“This year, we’ve got for the first time seven provinces at the national championship,” Gagnon explains. “I talk with every province one by one, I put some time and energy, and in my mind, it is important to do some sport, do something.

“I love the sport and I want to be involved for a long time,” he adds. “I don’t do that for money. I do that for the passion of the sport and the passion of the game.”

As the top level of para hockey grows across the country, Gagnon is looking to grow the sport among women and at the U16 junior level. For a young player like Daigle, it’s an encouraging sign of what’s to come.

“The future is very bright,” Daigle says. “[After we train on] Saturday morning, there’s the juniors. There’s a lot of new players that often arrive and there’s a lot of juniors that are really invested.

“I think there’s going to be a lot more Quebecois [playing on the national team]. We have a lot of talents in the future.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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