Hidden Gems

The Montreal Pirates Offer a Great Treasure: A Chance

Every Saturday morning, the Montreal Pirates junior team practices at the Howie Morenz Arena. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger
Every Saturday morning, the Montreal Pirates junior team practices at the Howie Morenz Arena. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

The Montreal Pirates don’t play in a typical league, but then again, they don’t play typical hockey either.

“The parents thank us after the game. They don’t give a shit after the game, they say ‘good job.’ It’s a difference from other hockey leagues,” said the director of Montreal Sledge Hockey, Maxime Gagnon.

Sledge hockey is designed so people with physical disabilities can get out on the ice to enjoy Canada’s favourite national sport. Instead of skating, players are on a sledge with two skates and a frame so that the puck can slide underneath. The players have two small sticks that are curved on one end to handle the puck. The other end has metal teeth so the players can easily maneuver around the ice.

The big difference between sledge hockey and its more mainstream counterpart isn’t the equipment however—instead, it’s the spirit of the game. It’s not about winning, but having the opportunity to enjoy a team sport.

“It’s harder to go outside and play with other kids or anything like that, but here the kids are all level, physically and cognitively,” said Montreal Pirates junior coach Jonathan Montpetit. “It’s like a second school for them.”

Arriving at the Howie Morenz arena for practice Saturday morning, there was excitement in the air. The Montreal Pirates practices are social gatherings as much as they are times to play some sledge hockey. It was not hard to see that the kids were enjoying themselves and smiling behind their caged masks.

The Pirates are a junior sledge hockey team that includes both male and female players. They play in the Montreal Sledge Hockey League and the team sometimes travels for inter-province play. The team is both a development team as well as place to have fun. Some players are able to train their skills and eventually play for Quebec’s official sledge hockey team.

“All the kids come year after year, so it’s always the same group of parents. They’re always together,” said Montpetit. “It’s a great family, everybody’s fun.”

Some of the players have been with the Pirates for a long time. Andreas Kyriakakis, who was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, has been with the team for five years already and describes the experience as “actually fun.”

Before his family found out about his condition, Andreas was a regular at hockey and soccer, but once he got the diagnosis, he had to stop.

“Him being a kid who watches more TSN SportsCenter than the Cabbage Patch kids, he was dying to find something where can participate in as a team. So we came here,” said Peter Kyriakakis, Andreas’s father.

For everyone involved, whether they are new junior players or the older squad, there is a sense of community and belonging. A lot of the kids and parents stay with the team for multiple seasons, so the team becomes closer as time goes on.

“It’s like a family where the young ones like to see the older ones, and the older players, most of the time, will stay on the ice to help the younger players,” Gagnon said.

“It’s harder to go outside and play with other kids or anything like that, but here the kids are all level, physically and cognitively.” —Jonathan Montpetit, Coach

The team relies on sponsors and donations to keep themselves afloat. Luckily, its director is Gagnon, who also happens to be the director for Défi sportif AlterGo, which prides itself on helping athletes with disabilities compete in sports.

Gagnon is able to use his connections with Défi sportif to get sponsors for the Pirates. Donations are also regularly accepted to contribute to the team’s operating budget.

“I know donors are very present and it’s a good thing that we have because obviously we know the parents have medical appointments and everything so that’s another financial aspect that can be hard sometimes,” Montpetit said.

With the team’s inter-provincial play, the financial aspect of running a team can be difficult. However, it isn’t something that most parents are concerned about.

“There’s willingness among the parents to help and pay what we need to pay to keep it going. If you ask any parent here, if they say registration is going to go up 100 bucks, they’re all going to say no problem,” Kyriakakis said. “The options for our kids are limited because of their disability so, we take what we can.”

The kids are not the first, and they definitely will not be the last to practice and play with the Pirates. With the encouragement from the staff, parents, and each other, the Pirates junior squad will continue to live on and provide the opportunity for every kid to enjoy playing hockey.

“It’s a sentimental belonging. It’s having their own hockey jersey like their big brother or little brother who plays hockey,” Gagnon said. “It’s like ‘me too, I play hockey, me too, I won a medal.’ It’s the same thing as hockey, except there isn’t a rivalry with the players, it’s really fun.”