Tyler McGregor overcomes cancer, to lead Canadian sledge hockey team
In this Dec. 6, 2012 file photo, Canada's Tyler McGregor, right, has a second period shot stopped by Japan's goalie Mitsuru Nagase during semi-final World Sledge Hockey Challenge action in Calgary, Alta. (Larry MacDougal/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, October 30, 2015 3:34PM EDT
TORONTO -- When Tyler McGregor was 16, a broken leg and ankle required surgery to insert a rod and six pins. He was back playing hockey after the injury healed and wasn't concerned when a lump developed at the point of the original fracture. Even his doctors didn't think it was serious.
McGregor continued to play but when the lump grew larger, more tests revealed a devastating diagnosis. McGregor had spindle cell sarcoma, a form of soft tissue cancer.
After eight months of chemotherapy and the amputation of his left leg, he thought his budding hockey career was over.
But five years later, the 21-year-old is being looked at to help Canada's sledge hockey team rebound from a disappointing couple of seasons.
"I think for any young hockey player to go through something like that is going to be tough," he said. "As a 15-year-old, I was just on the verge of taking the next step in my hockey career so that was very devastating. Fortunately, I found sledge hockey and it kind of gave me that second opportunity to spend my career playing hockey."
Earlier this month the Philadelphia Flyers announced that defenceman Logan Pyett has been diagnosed with sarcoma in his upper leg. The 27-year-old was playing with the American Hockey League's Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season.
When told about Pyett's case, McGregor recalled how difficult it was to comprehend the diagnosis.
"It was an insane couple of weeks. Obviously a lot of information coming at you all at once," he said. "It was very confusing for me to be honest. I wasn't really sure about what cancer was really and the whole process that goes along with it. It was confusing for me and also trying to wrap my head around the fact that I may never play hockey again. It was a difficult time.
"Fortunately I had friends and family and the hockey community, my coaches and teammates were incredible."
McGregor, a leadership and organizational management student at the University of Guelph, is a part of a motivated Canadian sledge team. Team Canada won bronze at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. Then in May, at the world championships in Buffalo, the Canadians lost to the Americans in the final.
The failure to win gold has Canada reinvigorated for the upcoming season.
"We know we're close," McGregor said. "I think we're here working hard this week and we're ready to get back on top. It's been far too long."
The Forest, Ont., native is part of a group of 20 players taking part in the team's training camp this week at Toronto's MasterCard Centre.
"Most of us are pretty upset with the loss to the Americans," said head coach Ken Babey. "I think we're not far off, but we're a better team now as a team than we were in Buffalo last (season). I think we're all itching to get back into some games, get back into some competition and hopefully we can keep progressing until our first tournament in Italy."
Up next for Canada is another training camp next month in Ottawa. Then in December the team will travel to Italy for the four nations tournament along with Norway, Korea and the Italians. Bridgewater, N.S. will play host to the 2016 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in January.