Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hockey an avenue for excellence

World-champion Canadian amputee hockey squad hungry for fifth straight title in Montreal

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Winning world championships never gets dull, but then again, Tom Rinn, of Stony Mountain, Dennis Zboril of Minnedosa and Brandon's Slade Doyle have never lost one, and they don't intend to start now. All three are part of the Team Canada squad that will go after its fifth straight International Standing Amputee Ice Hockey Federation world championship April 27-May 2, in Montreal.

Rinn, 28, has been with the team for all four world championships: 2003 in Finland, 2004 in Czech Republic, 2006 in Latvia and 2008 in Boston. Zboril was there in 2004, '06, '08 and Doyle in 2008.

Rinn, who grew up in Snowflake, has never backed down from a challenge. "I lost my left leg below the knee when I about five years old (1987) in a lawn-mower accident," said the 5-11 left-winger. "It was in July, and my parents put me on skates that October."

Doyle, 34, said he lost both his hands below the elbow in an electrical accident in 1997. "I was just a young guy, and it took me about a year before I even learned to tie my shoelaces." By experimenting with various prostheses, and a little inventive thinking, the 6-4 defenceman now looks forward to his second world championship. Zboril, also a defenceman, was born missing one hand.

Rinn has gone through at least 30 prosthetics since he lost his leg. Now he has one for walking and one for hockey. "The alignment of the (skating) prosthetic is a lot different. It helps me get into a skating stance, accelerate a little big quicker and turn."

Rinn believes he couldn't have achieved all he has without help from the War Amps of Canada and its Child Amputee Program, which offers comprehensive services to child amputees and their families. "You can't put a price tag on the help they have given to me."

Hockey wasn't his only sport growing up. "I played junior A baseball (the Pembina Valley Orioles), golf, high school volleyball and track and field (for the Pembina Tigers). I always wanted to excel."

Canada's first game will be April 27 against Finland, a team Rinn suggests could be a sleeper. "We have played (and beaten) the U.S. every time in the final so far, so we're planning on the same scenario this year. Finland, however, has a really strong team. They were strong in 2008 and they've improved since then."

Doyle agrees. "If they have a hot goaltender, Finland could be hard to beat. Latvia has also improved."

They'll play Latvia April 28, and then it's the World Team (April 29) and United States (April 30) before heading into the semifinals (May 1) and the final medal playoffs (May 2). "Unfortunately both Russia and Czech Republic had their funding slashed," said Rinn. "So this year they are combining to make a World Team. They'll also bring in a guy from Australia, Germany, Israel, and five Canadians who didn't make our team."

"I remember when our program had just started," said Rinn. "We were a bunch of guys who just wanted to play hockey. That's why I think our team has excelled so quickly. When you have 20 guys who are all in the same situation and put them together, it's not just hockey anymore. It's stretching our limits."

allan.besson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2010 C6

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