Team USA Prepares for Paralympic Sled Hockey Action
The Paralympic sled hockey tournament kicks off Friday where Team USA looks to defend their 2018 gold medal.
Olympic hockey has wrapped up in Beijing, but there is plenty of exciting on-ice action to watch March 4-14 at the 2022 Beijing Paralympics where Team U.S.A. will go for a record fourth straight gold medal in para ice hockey.
What is para ice hockey?
Para ice hockey—also called sled or sledge hockey—is very similar to traditional stand-up hockey. In sled hockey, players sit in sleds balanced on two skate blades and use two smaller hockey sticks. The hockey sticks have ice picks on one end that players use to propel themselves across the ice and then quickly transition the sticks to play, pass, and shoot the puck.
Other than a unique penalty in sled hockey called “teeing” (hitting another player with the front of the sled), sled hockey is as exciting, physical, and fast-paced as the game stand-up hockey fans are devoted to. It doesn’t take long to become a sled hockey fan, and the Paralympics are a chance to see the very best players in the world compete on the biggest stage.
Of course when it comes to international hockey competition, two countries instantly come to mind—the U.S.A. and Canada. The sled hockey rivalry between Team U.S.A. and their neighbor to the north doesn’t lack passion and competitive history. In an interview in 2021, U.S.A. Captain Josh Pauls acknowledged there is a fierce rivalry between Team U.S.A. and Team Canada every time they meet in international competition. But with the international political temperature heating up, the bigger story going into the start of the sled hockey competition may be who suddenly isn’t competing.
Despite an initial ruling by the IOC that the Russia Paralympic Committee and athletes from NPC Belarus could participate in the 2022 Games but would be excluded from the medal table due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine, the IPC announced a subsequent ruling early this morning saying that athlete entries from Russia and Belarus would not be accepted. The IPC cited rising pressure from other national Paralympic committees, teams, and athletes and an “escalating” situation in the athlete’s village.
This decision significantly impacts the sled hockey competition, as the Russia Paralympic Committee team entered the Paralympic Games having taken the bronze medal at the World Championships in Ostrava in 2021 in impressive style. What was scheduled to be an eight team para ice hockey competition will now be a seven team competition, with three teams now in the top “A” group - U.S.A., Canada, and South Korea. As of the time of publishing, Group B will remain the same, consisting of host nation China, Italy, Slovakia, and Czech Republic.
Team U.S.A. is the reigning gold medal winner, taking home the gold in dramatic fashion in PyeongChang in 2018 winning in overtime against Team Canada. U.S.A., led by four-time Paralympian Pauls, will be going for a record-setting fourth consecutive gold medal in sled hockey having taken home the top prize in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014 in addition to 2018’s gold.
This year’s Paralympic roster has many returning Paralympians including defenders Ralph DeQuebec and Jack Wallace, along with forwards Travis Dodson, Noah Grove, Rico Roman, Josh Misciewicz, and Kevin McKee. Two other returning players whose names are well known in international sled hockey are stand-out forwards Declan Farmer and Brody Roybal. There are also some new and exciting faces making their Paralympic debut for Team USA including Joseph Woodke, Malik Jones, Evan Nichols, Griffin LaMarre, Kyle Zych, and David Eustace. Beijing will be the first international competition of any kind for Jones, Nichols, and LaMarre.
One notable name NOT on the roster for Team U.S.A. is goaltender Steve Cash, a four-time Paralympian (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018) who announced his retirement in 2021 after sixteen seasons. Cash, a legend in sled hockey goaltending, has remained an important mentor for the team, especially for goaltenders Jen Lee and Griffin LaMarre, as they prepare for Beijing.
When and Where To Watch
Team U.S.A. opens play in the preliminary round on Friday, March 4th at 11:05 PM CT in a gold-medal rematch against Team Canada. The game will be televised on USA Network.