In making the U.S. sled team and taking the ice this week at the 2019 Para Hockey Cup in Canada, David Eustace and Joseph Woodke can feel accomplished knowing they’ve earned a spot on the best team in the world.
But that doesn’t mean their work is finished.
“In some way you’ve made it, but you can’t think that way because 50 other guys would like to have your spot,” said David Hoff, head coach of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. “You’ve gotten here, but now the work really begins to improve and stay on the team, which is a big challenge to everyone because the depth of our players has grown over the last 10 years.”
Eustace and Woodke are okay with putting the extra work in. The two made their debuts with the national team at this year’s Para Hockey Cup after playing the 2018-19 season with the U.S. Men’s Development Sled Hockey Team.
For Eustace, it was a long time coming, as he spent the last five years on the development team before getting the call to the national club.
“I’ve been waiting so long to be on this team,” said Eustace, a defenseman. “There’s nothing I ever wanted more than this, honestly. I love being around the guys and this is a dream.”
The 30-year-old Woodke, who has been playing for six years, spent one year on the development team. He called it a great learning experience, an opportunity to gain confidence and realize that he had a chance to make the national team.
“It made me push myself harder,” said Woodke, a forward. “Everybody strives to get to this level. I’ve been putting in the work, and I’m going to keep putting in the work to stay at this level and contribute to the team.”
Eustace, the youngest player on the team at 20 years old, always looked up to members of the national team while participating in joint training camps.
“It was a grind all the time and always a tough matchup when we scrimmaged,” Eustace said.
Following the team’s July tryout, Eustace finally received the call he had been waiting for from General Manager Dan Brennan, notifying him that he made the team.
“I had been working for this for so long, after I got the call, it was a weight lifted off of my shoulders,” Eustace said. “I learned that this is more of a mental game than it is a physical one. I had to keep my composure, keep working and also just have the confidence to know that I could make it to the next level. I was just excited and relieved because I’ve been waiting so long to be with these guys. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, so I need to keep working.”
Woodke was also excited to get the call from Brennan following the team’s July tryout.
“It was almost a little overwhelming,” Woodke said. “I knew I had a good camp and tryout, and I thought there was a chance, but I knew there were a lot of great players vying for the team. Once I got the phone call, it almost seemed like it wasn’t real. It was a great feeling to see all of my hard work pay off and that all of my coaches and teammates had faith in me.”
Hoff said Eustace and Woodke are fitting in well with a U.S. team that will play on Saturday in hopes of capturing its sixth straight Para Hockey Cup tournament championship.
“There’s no doubt the pace of play is quicker than what they’ve probably been used to on a consistent basis, but what I like about both of those players is that they both play aggressive hockey,” Hoff said. “It’s nice for them to get their first shifts out of the way and just settle in and play. It’s just learning to make decisions quicker, and they’ve both done a nice job.”
Eustace scored his first career goal during the team’s 8-0 rout against the Czech Republic. Rico Roman initially carried through the slot off a 3-on-2 rush and dished a pass to a wide-open Eustace, who finished his first-ever goal with a high one-timer over a sprawled Czech Republic goalie.
“It was exhilarating,” Eustace said. “It’s not necessarily how I pictured it. I thought it would come on a tip or some garbage goal. It was nice to have it on the break. I honestly didn’t think I would get the shot up there. I called for it, [Roman] gave me a perfect pass and I put it upstairs.”
Woodke also got into the action with the primary assist on Brody Roybal’s goal, which gave the U.S. a 5-0 lead.
It’s just all part of the experience for Eustace and Woodke, who needless to say are enjoying their national team debuts.
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect coming into these games,” Woodke said. “Games are a lot faster than what I’m used to, but it’s just been a lot of fun. It’s not as stressful as I thought it would be. Getting on the ice with the guys has been amazing.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
|Date||Opponent||TIME (LOCAL/ET)/Result||LOCATION||Broadcast/Stream||U.S. Player of the Game|
|Sun., Dec. 1||Russia
|W, 3-0||Paradise Double Ice Complex Paradise, Newfoundland||Livestream||Brody Roybal|
|Mon., Dec. 2||Czech Republic
|W, 8-0||Paradise Double Ice Complex Paradise, Newfoundland||Livestream||Josh Pauls|
|Wed., Dec. 4||Canada
|W, 4-1||Paradise Double Ice Complex Paradise, Newfoundland||Livestream||Rico Roman|
|Thurs., Dec. 5||Czech Republic
|W, 8-0||Paradise Double Ice Complex Paradise, Newfoundland||Livestream||Kevin McKee|
|Sat., Dec. 7||Canada
|W, 2-1||Paradise Double Ice Complex Paradise, Newfoundland||TSN||Declan Farmer|