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Wounded soldier finds a home on Canada’s sledge hockey team

Dominic Larocque, left, and Anthony Gale of Canada celebrate a goal against Norway during their ice sledge hockey match in Sochi on Sunday.


Dominic Larocque has no memory of the moment that changed his life forever.

While serving with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, an armoured vehicle carrying the young corporal drove over an improvised explosive device.

The devastating blast on Nov. 27, 2007, shattered Larocque's left leg and required an amputation above the knee.

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Although he has no recollection of that fateful day, he's still reminded of it each morning.

"Every time when I wake up I think about that," said Larocque, now 26. "I have no choice."

But the Quebec City native was determined not to let the injury define him, so he set out on a course that eventually led him to the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games as member of Canada's sledge hockey team.

Larocque was an accomplished athlete growing up – even playing junior-A hockey for a time –before joining the military's famed Van Doo regiment in 2005.

His main focus upon returning from Afghanistan was getting back in shape, but he saw an even brighter future after watching Canada's sledge hockey team in action.

"I did my rehab first and then after my rehab I started my training like a soldier in the gym," said Larocque, who has a Van Doo flag with him in Sochi. "After that I saw the world championships on TV and that was the moment I realized I had the opportunity to play hockey again."

He has not only played again, but excelled.

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A big body that likes to do the dirty work, Larocque has already shown some scoring touch at these Games, recording two goals in Canada's 10-1 victory over Sweden in Saturday's opener.

"On the ice he does stuff that not every guy loves to do," said Canadian captain Greg Westlake. "He blocks shots, he gets in there hard on the forecheck and hits guys.

"Guys like myself need guys like Dom because he's got to go out there and tire guys out and eat up big minutes."

Larocque was at it again on Sunday, scoring the game's first goal in Canada's 4-0 victory over Norway.

"We're really pleased with where he is. He's a big strong man," said head coach Mike Mondin. "He's a physical presence on the ice and he's got a real good athletic background."

Larocque got hooked up with the national team through the Soldier On program, which connects injured Canadian soldiers to sport, and is its first member to participate in a Winter Paralympics.

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He watched some of the sledge hockey tournament at the Vancouver Games four years ago, even sitting next to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for one contest.

"Every story is a good story with every player. Dom's story is no different," said Mondin. "The discipline that he brings to the team and the leadership because of his military training, he's had a real strong influence."

That attitude has rubbed off on the rest of Canada's roster, which is looking to avenge a disappointing fourth-place finish on home soil in 2010.

"He doesn't speak too much, but when he does people listen," said assistant captain Brad Bowden. "He treats his teammates with the utmost respect."

Quiet and reserved in public, Bowden said Larocque has fit in perfectly in the locker room.

"He's just an all-around great guy and you can tell that he comes from that background," said Bowden. "He's disciplined but he also lets loose with some of the younger guys. He's a goofy guy and likes to have fun and we love to have him."

Westlake added that he has seen an amazing transformation in Larocque.

"It's cool watching him," said Westlake, who had both of his legs amputated below the knee when he was 18 months old. "When he first made the team he had no confidence in his English, barely spoke. His first year we used to speak by drawing pictures and passing them back and forth and now his English is very good.

"It's fun watching him go from new guy on the team, kind of an outsider, to part of the core group."

Bowden said he believes having the support of teammates who understand what it means to go through physical hardships has been good for Larocque.

"When you come from the military and you're injured and you can't really go and do what you used to do, I think people look at you like you are disabled or you are not as useful as you would have been before," said Bowden, who was born with a spinal deformity. "I think getting involved in sport and the Soldier On program, it's given him something else to strive to do and become something that's kind of similar to what he was doing.

"He was representing his country in one aspect and now he's doing it in another."

Larocque has remained with the Canadian Forces since his injury, performing administrative, maintenance and repair duties. With his military family intact, he has a whole new set of brothers with the sledge hockey program.

"It was easy coming into this team," he said. "Everybody supports each other on the Canadian team."

Added Bowden: "We don't even really see ourselves as disabled. He's newly disabled and he doesn't even treat us any different. He fits right in."

Bowden and Westlake both won gold at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin – Canada's only gold since sledge hockey made its debut in 1994 – but a tinge of disappointment can still be heard in their voices when the subject turns to Vancouver.

Larocque wants to help them make things right in Sochi.

"The guys who were on the team back in Vancouver want revenge," said Larocque. "They were playing at home and they didn't win. This time around we're ready and we want that revenge."

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