2022 phc game 2 matteo pellizzari

New beginnings in Bridgewater

From his first NextGen camp to Canada’s National Para Hockey Team in less than a year, 15-year-old Matteo Pellizzari is ready for his international debut at the 2022 Para Hockey Cup

Shannon Coulter
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November 28, 2022
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There have been a lot of big changes in Matteo Pellizzari’s life over the past seven months.

Back in April, the 15-year-old was playing for BC Hockey’s provincial para hockey team, with scrimmages twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturday. Now, he is working out daily and travelling across the country for training camps ahead of his international debut at the Para Hockey Cup in Bridgewater, N.S., as the youngest member of Canada’s National Para Hockey Team.

“It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but it’s been really good,” the Vancouver, B.C., native says.

Pellizzari was born without his fibulas in both of his legs—a rare condition called bilateral fibular hemimelia. He became a double-leg amputee from the knee down when he was one year old.

“It’s the only thing I’ve ever really known,” Pellizzarri says about being an amputee. “I honestly can’t imagine my life any other way.”

There have been many opportunities that Pellizzari has been able to pursue due to his amputations. He is actively involved in the War Amps Child Amputee Program (CHAMPS) and was previously featured in a War Amps commercial, brochures and on parade floats. As he got older, he started to volunteer for CHAMPS to give back to the program that has given him so much.

“They’ve made all the difference in my life. They’ve provided me with so many opportunities,” he says. “They pay for all my recreational prosthetics… they even actually paid for my first (para hockey) sled that I ever got that was custom made for me.”

The assistance from CHAMPS opened the door for Pellizzari to try playing multiple sports. He enjoys volleyball, running, swimming and golfing, but his true passion has always been para hockey. Pellizzari first got on the ice when he was four years old.

“I distinctly remember the first time I played. I felt like I was going so fast, it was so awesome,” he says. “I fell in love on day one, it was a love at first sight.”

At first, Pellizzari learned the fundamentals of para hockey with other kids his age. However, it quickly became evident that he had a natural talent for the sport, so he moved up to playing with the adult teams when he was nine years old.

“I started playing with 30-year-old, huge men that played for Team B.C. and I thought that was incredible,” the forward explains. “I was awestruck. I was definitely the worst on the ice.”

With the ceiling raised to set new goals in para hockey, Pellizzari continued to improve and excel in the sport. His talent also started to be noticed by members of Canada’s National Para Hockey Team. Veteran defenceman Adam Dixon first met Pellizzari at the Cruisers Cup in 2021.

“[Pellizzari] was connected to Greg Westlake, the former captain and one of my best friends, and Greg said, ‘Hey, come meet this kid, he’s a pretty cool guy,’” Dixon says. “Obviously it took a lot of dedication to fly in from B.C. to play in a tournament in Mississauga for a weekend.”

In April, Pellizzari was invited to his first NextGen Para Hockey Development Camp in Montreal, where Dixon served as a mentor for the participants.

“That was when I really got to spend a lot of time with him,” Dixon explains. “Obviously, with him being a double-leg amputee, I think he is a very good player. He has it all figured out… he’s already the best kid in B.C.”

“As soon as I went to NextGen camp, that really opened my eyes (to the) possibilities that I have in the sport,” Pellizzari adds. “It was really exciting for me. It was so incredible seeing how Hockey Canada organizes these events.”

Adam Dixon (left) and Matteo Pellizzari at the 2022 Para Hockey Cup.

One thing that stood out to Dixon was Pellizzari’s willingness to learn and not being afraid to ask questions in order to understand every piece of advice. Working with Pellizzari also reminded Dixon of his experience joining Canada’s National Para Hockey Team when he was 17.

“The people that I had watched on TV—Brad Bowden, Billy Bridges, Greg Westlake—all of a sudden went from being my heroes to now my teammates, and it was so funny being reminded of that,” he says.

“He was using Greg Westlake’s sticks that Greg had given him, and he had never retaped them because he didn’t want to take off the tape that Greg had put on there. I cut the tape off his sticks and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to learn how to tape our sticks today.’ (It’s) all those little things that I remember being young and being a fan of the sport, and I can see that in him.”

After an impressive showing at NextGen camp, Pellizzari was invited to selection camp for Canada’s National Para Hockey Team in September.

“Before tryouts happened, [Pellizzari’s] dad actually tracked me down on Facebook and had me call him, and just asked for me to look out for him,” Dixon says. “When he got there, he didn’t need anyone looking out for him.

“He’s so mature. He’s so open to everything. He hasn’t really played high-level hockey at all, so everything that we’re giving him, he has to soak it up and he soaks it up so well. He understands it and he applies it, and I think that’s a pretty impressive trait.”

By the end of selection camp, Pellizzari had earned a spot on the national team roster—a feat that took him completely by surprise.

“I was thinking this is really cool that they’re even considering me for this,” Pellizzari says. “I was super excited just to play at the highest level in Canada, and then all of a sudden I made the team and that was mind-blowing.”

As the youngest member of Team Canada, Pellizzari says all his veteran teammates have been welcoming to him and offer him advice, but his connection with Dixon has stood out. Dixon also considers Pellizzari to be one of his best friends on the team.

“Adam Dixon, he’s been a mentor right since NextGen camp. [He’s been] super helpful [as I’ve been] finding my way to Team Canada,” Pellizzari says. “I think that playing with all these veterans is going to provide me with a lot of insight for what I can look forward to.”

What’s it like to balance being a member of Canada’s National Para Hockey Team while in high school? Well, Pellizzari says he’s still trying to figure that out and takes it one day at a time. He has worked with his high school so he can complete his workout requirements for Team Canada instead of taking a physical education class.

But as Dixon discovered, the young forward has the work ethic needed to keep up in school and keep up in his para hockey training.

“I was his roommate [at the] last [training] camp, and the kid, all he did was homework. He’s so responsible,” Dixon says. “For [my] first year, I would pack all my textbooks from high school, put them in my backpack and fly around with them, and they would stay in my backpack. I’d never open them.”

The 2022 Para Hockey Cup will be Pellizzari’s international debut with Team Canada, and he will have a big group of fans cheering him on. His family will be travelling across the country to Bridgewater, N.S., to see him wear the Maple Leaf for the first time.

“Without my family and my friends, I think that I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today. They’ve made all the difference,” he says. “They’ve really set me up for success and they’ve been super encouraging for me.”

Looking to the future, Pellizzari hopes his experience with Team Canada will give him the opportunity to continue to grow the game in his home province and across the country. As one of several new players to Canada’s National Para Hockey Team, he is looking forward to growing as a player with his teammates over the next four years.

“This is really special because there’s so many young players and we’re building Team Canada this year for the next Paralympics. We’re starting from the beginning, and I’m really excited to be a part of that.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

emadziya@hockeycanada.ca 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

jknight@hockeycanada.ca

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