Gemmell takes MVP and gold in Japan

Team Canada preparing for world championships in sledge hockey in Norway

James Gemmell is preparing for the International Sledge Hockey tournament in Norway.

James Gemmell is preparing for the International Sledge Hockey tournament in Norway.

James Gemmell, of Quesnel, collected a gold medal and a game MVP at the Four Nations Cup sledge hockey tournament in Japan last January.

But those aren’t his top memories of the tournament.

Gemmell, 31, a defenceman with the national sledge hockey team listed a hit he laid on a Japanese player as his personal highlight.

“That was a confidence booster,” Gemmell said of the hit that brought out the Japanese trainer to tend to the player.

It was just one hit, but it typified the way Gemmell played the entire tournament, with physical grit that had players from the opposing teams thinking twice about dumping the puck in and chasing after it.

That is how Gemmell likes to play the game.

He admits he is not the best puck handler on the team, but what he lacks in that department, he makes up with sheer will and playing a very physical game.

“I know my role is to play the defensive game, so I just went out and made some big hits,” he said.

“I made the other teams know that I was there.”

“It makes you feel like you are part of the game.”

Of course, a close second in the list of memories from the Four Nations cup, Gemmell admitted lining up at the blueline, alongside his teammates, with a gold medal around his neck while O Canada played following their 5-1 win over Japan was a sweet feeling.

Especially wearing the Team Canada jersey.

“Wearing the jersey with the Team Canada crest on the front and your name on the back is one of the greatest feelings in the world,” he said with a humble smile.

As for being named game MVP, Gemmell brings it up as an afterthought, after a 30 minute interview.

The recognition came after Team Canada beat Norway 7-0 in round-robin action and is emblematic of Gemmell as a player and individual.

In addition to being solid on defence game and being physical, Gemmell played the game with a shoulder injury suffered earlier in the game.

“I had to battle through that for the rest of the game,” he said with a shake of the head.

“It was tough.”

Then he smiles.

“It was pretty cool,” he admits of the nod as MVP.

Quite an achievement for someone who had the jitters going into training camp.

Since training camp, Gemmell has made the best of every opportunity to show he belongs on the Team Canada roster.

In Japan, Team Canada was down a defenceman, suiting only four blueliners, which meant more ice time for Gemmell and in all situations including killing penalties.

“It gave me an opportunity to show that I can play full time,” Gemmell said.

“It felt great.”

Gemmell and his teammates put on quite a display on defence in Japan, as they allowed just four goals in five games including two shutouts.

“We know we can count on him [Gemmell],” coach of the national sledge hockey team, Mike Mondin said prior to the tournament in Japan.

“Defensively, James is responsible and there’s a lot of trust  in him.”

Although Team Canada took the Four Nations Cup with a perfect 5-0 record, not all of the games were cakewalks.

Gemmell pointed to the team from Korea, a team they beat 6-0 in semi-final action to make it to the gold-medal game, but squeaked by them in round-robin action with a 3-2 win.

Team Canada had not faced the Koreans since 2010 and there was a sense of unfamiliarity going into the round-robin game, Gemmell explained.

In fact, the 2012 Korean team was a completely different team compared to the 2010 team.

“This time they came out hard and they came out fast,” Gemmell explained.

“It was a tough game for all of us, we weren’t expecting them to play that way.”

Team Canada has a busy schedule ahead of them.

First they travel to Buffalo, NY in late February where they put their 15-game winning streak on the line in a three-game series against Team USA.

“It doesn’t mean anything on paper,” Gemmell said of the three-game series.

“But it is our chance to put doubts in Team USA as to their chances of beating us at the World Championships.”

In April, Team Canada travels to Norway for the IPC Sledge Hockey World Championships.

Although the world championships are still a couple of months away, Gemmell said Team Canada knows exactly what they have to do – play a Canadian brand of hockey, physical hockey.

“If we can do that, I think we’ll have good results.”