Ontario Earns Podium Finishes at Wheelchair Rugby National Championships

Team Ontario claims two silvers, one bronze, and multiple individual awards in Montréal

The 2022 Canadian Wheelchair Rugby Championships wrapped up over the weekend, with all three Ontario teams earning podium finishes. The event was hosted within the greater Défi Sportif Altergo and featured 10 teams from across Canada competing in two divisions. This was the first year the championships were able to take place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ontario Thunder finished in second place in Division 1 with a 61-57 loss to defending champions the Alberta Roughnecks. The team, which consisted of Paralympians Mike Whitehead, Cody Caldwell, Travis Murao, Patrice Dagenais, and Dave Willsie, and rising star Rio Kanda Kovac, gave a hard-fought effort, but couldn’t quite solve the dynamic duo of Branden Troutman and MVP Zak Madell.

The Ontario Lightning earned a place in the bronze medal game after posting a 2-2 record in the preliminary round. Facing formidable foes Équipe Québec, the Lightning came out on top with a close 51-48 win. The team featured athletes of mixed experience levels, including Paralympians Eric Furtado-Rodrigues and Shayne Smith, National Team Program athletes Ben Perkins and Matt Debly, and select Ontario club-team athletes Nick Kovac, Ian Crowe, and Peter Langenecker.

In Division 2, reigning three-time champions the Ontario Storm met their match against a fresh and dynamic Team BC 2. With the Storm in the lead for the better part of the game, a series of costly turnovers in the 3rd quarter allowed BC to capitalize and gain momentum, eventually winning the game with a score of 41-38 and earning the Division 2 national title. The results will undoubtedly make for an eager team hungry for redemption next year.

During the Awards Banquet held on Sunday night following the end of the tournament, seven Ontario athletes were recognized with individual awards for their performances throughout the weekend. In Division 2, Erika Schmutz earned ‘Best 1.5’ and Reid Mulligan earned ‘Best 3.5’. In Division 1, Eric Furtado-Rodrigues (0.5), Cody Caldwell (2.0), Shayne Smith (2.5), and Mike Whitehead (3.0) earned Best in Class awards for their respective classifications, while Matt Debly was granted the Rising Star Most Improved Player award.

The Ontario Para Network would like to extend its heartfelt congratulations to all the Ontario athletes and all the opposing teams who competed at the National Championships. A special thank you goes out to the Ontario coaches and support staff – Garett Hickling, Dave Willsie, Dave Caldwell, Liz Caldwell, Susana Lima, Tanya Crowe, Gwen Debly, Jesse Kozma, and Ian Mayberry – for all their hard work during the tournament and throughout the season, and for their contributions to the sport of wheelchair rugby. Finally, thank you to Wheelchair Rugby Canada, Défi Sportif Altergo, and Parasports Québec for organizing the event and making it possible for athletes to return to the national stage in a safe, fun, and welcoming environment.

Be sure to follow ONPARA on social media at @onparanetwork for photos, upcoming events, news, and announcements. Want to get involved in wheelchair rugby in Ontario? Contact Josée Matte at josee@onpara.ca to get in the game! We’re always looking for more players, coaches, volunteers, and officials. No previous experience needed!

About the Ontario Para Network

Formerly known as the Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association, our mission at the Ontario Para Network (ONPARA) is to grow opportunities for participation in adaptive sports across Ontario. As the governing body for wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and wheelchair tennis in the province, we strive to offer opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in recreational, competitive, and high performance programs. We lead, develop, support and advocate for athletes, coaches and volunteers to build strong and inclusive sport communities. We also deliver extensive outreach and education programs targeting schools as well as individuals and clinicians at rehabilitation hospitals and the broader health care sector.