Canada Winter Games Wraps Up

On Saturday, February 18th, the PEI 2023 Canada Winter Games officially opened with the Opening Ceremony. Team Saskatchewan entered the sold-out East Link Centre in Charlottetown, PE led by speed skater Luca Veeman, the team’s official flagbearer. Veeman, joined by the flagbearers of each province and territory took part in a ceremonial finish to the torch relay which, fittingly, was in the shape of a lighthouse. The theme throughout the Opening Ceremony was “we are all Islanders!” Performers and speakers welcomed the athletes, coaches and support staff to the province, claiming that all were now honorary Islanders.

The PEI 2023 Canada Winter Games featured an inaugural Karate match, Mixed Doubles Curling match, and the first-ever in the history of the Canada Games, a women's Boxing match.

Athletes from this corner of Saskatchewan were the bookends of the medal earning by Team Saskatchewan at the 2023 Winter Games. Monday Feb 20th, Saskatchewan had its first medal of the 2023 Games when Rhiann Arnold of Prudhomme, SK secured a bronze medal in her biathlon 6 km sprint at the Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park at Brookvale, Prince Edward Island. She finished with a time of 19:16.3. Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The sport has been on the winter program since its debut at the 1991 Canada Games

A matching bronze medal was earned by Krystle Shewchuk of Prince Albert Saturday March 4th and was the final medal of the games for Team Saskatchewan. Shewchuk’s medal came in the female 5 km Para-Nordic Sit Ski, where she finished with a time of 24:28.8, just ahead of British Columbia’s Lily Brook who had a time of 25:16.1. This is Shewchuk’s first medal of the 2023 Winter Games and her third Canada Games medal overall. As a dual-sport athlete, this is Shewchuk’s fifth medal in her Canada Games career spanning four different Canada Games having competed in the 2017 and 2022 Summer Games, and the 2019 Winter Games previously. She earned a bronze medal in skiing in 2019 and a silver medal in sailing at the 2022 Summer Games held this past August in Niagara.

Of the total 20 medals for Team Saskatchewan, the only other medal earned by an athlete from our region of the province came on Wednesday, March 1st when Saskatchewan’s men’s hockey team fought a hard battle against Team Ontario for the gold medal. Unfortunately, in the second over-time period Ontario was successful in scoring against Team Saskatchewan to win the game 3-2. Waldheim’s Jaxon Herchak brings a silver medal home from the Winter Games for his part on the team.

As the Winter Games came to a close in PEI, athletes walked in the closing ceremony Sunday night at the East Link Centre in Charlottetown. The ceremony described as a ‘Party on the Dock’, featured the music and sounds of Prince Edward Island and Canada’s East Coast while celebrating all the amazing athletic achievements of Canada’s best young athletes. And when Team Saskatchewan entered the stadium, they were led by four-time Canada Games athlete Krystle Shewchuk.

“I was a little bit shocked,” Shewchuk stated when asked about hearing the news for the first time. “I wasn’t expecting it, but it’s awesome.” On Saturday afternoon, Team Saskatchewan Chef de Mission Mark Bracken called an impromptu meeting with the cross-country ski team. Krystle, and the other athletes had no idea what was coming. That’s the moment Bracken broke the news to Krystle in front of her coaches and teammates. The moment Bracken made the announcement, Shewchuk’s teammates and coaches erupted in cheer.

Bracken shared, “She’s a four-time Canada Games participant,…a medalist in two different sports. And when you look at opening or closing ceremonies flag bearers, it’s about performance, but it’s also about somebody who is a role model. Somebody who has shown that they are committed to Team Saskatchewan and sport in the province. So, she just rose to the top for week two as somebody who should lead our contingent in for closing ceremonies.”

Shewchuk began her Canada Games career by competing in para sailing at the 2017 Canada Summer games in Winnipeg. She then competed in the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, where she won three bronze medals, in the 2.5km, 5km and sprint in the Sit-Ski class. In August, at the 2022 Canada Summer Games in Niagara, Krystle, and the rest of the sailing athletes, didn’t know if they’d even be able to compete due to the lack of wind needed for sailing. Once the wind did arrive, she took full advantage. Shewchuk sailed her way to her best Canada Games finish and earned a silver medal for her and her province. It was her fourth career medal.

Moments after receiving the news she would be flag-bearer for the closing ceremony, Shewchuk reflected, “It’s really special, especially being that this is the last (Canada Games) before I age out. I’ve been training really hard for this moment and so I’m quite grateful. It’s been a long road.” Even though she’s won five Canada Games medals, against the best competition in the country, leading out Team Saskatchewan was one final memorable feat.

Commenting on how she expected she would feel as she led the Saskatchewan contingent into East Link Centre, “I’m going to be really nervous,” Krystle said with a laugh. “But I’m pretty excited for it. It will be quite nice.” Having Krystle Shewchuk lead Saskatchewan into the Closing Ceremony was the perfect way to end two great, and successful weeks in Prince Edward Island.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder