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Sault coaches golden at World Ringette Championship

Bruce Graham and Marc Baril were on the staff of Team Sweden at the event
Three local coaches led team Sweden to gold at the 2019 World Ringette Championship in Burnaby, BC, which ran from Nov, 25 to Dec. 1. Bruce Graham (Sault Ringette Club president and coach), along with Marc Baril (Sault Ringette Club referee-in-chief and coach) and Terry Ablett (Northeastern regional director and West Ferris Ringette Association coach) were part of team Sweden’s bench staff.

Graham was approached by team Sweden, which found itself without a head coach or assistant coaches leading up to the championship event. Rachelle Graham, Bruce Graham’s daughter, has been working in Sweden and volunteering with her local ringette association there. Graham coached two daughters through ringette, including Northeast U14AA, U16AA, and U19AAA. It was at Rachelle’s suggestion that team Sweden asked if Graham would be interested in this opportunity.

“It was an honour to be asked, and it was an incredible opportunity,” said Graham about being approached to head coach team Sweden.

Graham has coaching experience with both Baril and Ablett. “I approached Marc and Terry to be assistant coaches because we have similar styles of coaching and years of experience coaching ringette. Their strong communication skills made them ideal choices.”

“When Bruce first contacted me about helping him coach at the World's, I assumed he was joking. It seemed unreal that a group of coaches from northern Ontario could be invited to participate in ringette's crown tournament. Once I knew he was serious, I jumped in without hesitation and enjoyed every minute of the experience,” said Ablett.

“When I was first approached by Bruce about this opportunity to coach Team Sweden at the 2019 World Championships, I honestly thought this was just another of his crazy ideas…and if you know Bruce, you know what I am talking about. As I found out a couple weeks later, he was 100 per cent serious about this and immediately jumped on the opportunity to take on this challenge,” said Baril.

Team Sweden players and leaders welcomed the Ontarian coaches.

“There was instant chemistry,” said Graham recalling their first meeting in the hotel lobby. “The players and bench staff were so passionate and dedicated to their team.”

Team captain Anna Norrbom expressed her appreciation for the coaches’ professionalism and knowledge.

“We met Bruce, Marc, and Terry the first time as a team [just one week prior to the tournament]. Bruce had been in contact with me and our coach back in Sweden a few times and also provided us with some drills and thoughts for on ice practice, and they immediately felt like a part of our team. They inspired us and had a good plan that they implemented together with the team so that we all knew how we should play. The plan was brilliant and easy to follow, so we followed it all the way to the finals, and it led us to victory! They were inspiring, calm, and encouraging; they made us develop as a team in a very short time and also saw our strengths and helped us build upon them.”

Sweden’s assistant captain, Sarah Esmail, shared similar thoughts: “It was a pleasure to have Bruce, Mark, and Terry coach our team at the World Ringette Championships. They shared their energy, passion, and knowledge of the game with us, and right away it felt like they had been part of the team for a very long time. They helped us implement an excellent strategy that played to our strengths (our speed) and led us to victory in the President’s Pool. We wish them all the best in their coaching careers and look forward to playing with them once again in the near future.”

WRC is like the Olympics of ringette. Although most players are in it for the love of the sport, some even go on to earn scholarships, but making it to the WRC is the ultimate goal for many players.

“I’ve learned so much during this WRC. Bruce, Marc and Terry were very professional and did an excellent job! They stayed positive through the whole tournament and they believed in us from the very beginning. I would really like them to coach us again in future World Ringette Championships,” said Wilma Frankenberg, assistant captain on team Sweden.

Although they travelled to Burnaby to compete, the team took time to visit local youth athletes in Langley, video chat with Graham’s U12 competitive team in Sault Ste. Marie, as well as take in the sites of BC.

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is one that neither the coaches nor the players are soon to forget. Their first game started off strong with a four-point lead in the first period versus the Czech Republic, with a game final of 11-0. Their second game was against Westside and saw another victory of 13-0. In their third game, Sweden played the USA. The first three periods were close, with 2-1, 1-1, and 3-2 goals respectively. In the final period, Sweden shutout the US while scoring 5 goals, securing a 11-4 win.

Sweden found themselves undefeated going into finals, again versus the USA. This was by far Sweden’s closest game with no goals scored in the first period, 2-1 for Sweden in the second, the US scoring two in the third, and Sweden three in the fourth period. Sweden took the gold medal with a 5-3 win.

“It was a privilege to lead these young ladies; they are a young team and played with so much heart,” said Graham on his experience coaching team Sweden. “Marc [Baril] and Terry [Ablett] build a high-level of trust with the players, and the bench was able to adjust quickly. They were the calming force in the Championship game, keeping the team focused on the fundamentals of our game.”

Ablett was also honoured to be part of Worlds: “My favourite recollection of the experience was being warmly welcomed into team Sweden by a fantastic group of players and their families. We were given the opportunity to share the entire event with them–on and off the ice.”

“Coaching at the World Championships is the greatest experience I have had in my ringette coaching career to date. Having the opportunity to be surrounded by the kind of talent these players have at this level and to think that I was there to try to make a difference and to help these players attain the ultimate goal of taking home a championship all seemed very surreal to me. However, things all became very real when we first stepped onto the ice for our first practice together, and it was clear to us that these ladies were very special and talented,” said Baril.

“I am very thankful and privileged to have had this opportunity to meet and to be part of the lives of these talented players. These athletes, team leaders, and their families–both at the event bad back home in Sweden–made us feel as though we were part of this team from the start. I can say that I would certainly jump at the opportunity to do this again some day.”

Members of both the Sault Ringette Club and West Ferris Ringette Association (North Bay, Ont.) are proud of their local coaches’ participation in the 2019 World Ringette Championship.

Up next for the Sault Ringette Club is the 2019 U12 Provincial Championships this coming April. Sault Ste. Marie can expect to welcome over 30 teams from across Ontario for this season’s U12 Provincial Championship. Hosting this event will not only bring tourism opportunities to the Sault, but it will showcase the speed, skill, and strategy of the sport.