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2021 Sled Worlds Notebook: A Big Thank You

By USA Hockey, 06/23/21, 1:30PM EDT


Follow along for an inside look at Team USA's journey

The 2021 Para Sled Hockey World Championship takes place from June 19-26 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Scroll for an inside look at Team USA's journey.

June 24 | A Big Thank You

Thursday marked the final opportunity to practice before semifinals and the medal-round games. The U.S. will play South Korea tomorrow for an opportunity to advance to the gold-medal game. Today’s practice was a high-tempo final tune up to ensure that the team was focused on the task at hand.

Preparations are already underway to finalize travel this weekend with back-to-back games on the horizon. It’s difficult to balance the logistics of back-to-back game days with international travel, but proper organization and planning has set the U.S. staff up for success.

One final order of business also needed to be completed prior to game days this weekend; a big thank you to the team hosts Adela and Tom. U.S. national teams travel all over the world every year, and one of the most important factors of success, especially in foreign countries, is the team host. Typically, a local resident with an interest in ice hockey signs up to serve as a team host and help with ordering groceries, translate local languages, finalize schedules and more. The team hosts were even more important this year with COVID-19 tournament restrictions, ensuring that contactless grocery orders could be delivered, bus schedules were on time and more.

Adela and her family volunteered in Ostrava at the 2019 world championship, and they wanted to make sure that they played a major role in helping again this year. Adela has spent time in Michigan previously, and has even visited USA Hockey Arena. Tom is a college student, nearly ready to graduate in computer sciences. While working with Team USA he learned how to throw an American football and enjoyed practicing his English.

Both team hosts were presented with autographed team jerseys and gifts prior to practice as a ‘thank you’ for all of their hard work throughout the tournament.

June 23 | Our Sweetest Fans

After a well-earned quarterfinals bye, Team USA is able to enjoy two days of practice while teams play to decide semifinal matchups. The U.S. woke up and went back to work at practice early in the morning, focusing on developing more chemistry between lines. The team philosophy from day one was to develop into the best team come the gold-medal game. Win or lose, every game and practice is an opportunity to get better, and the team’s messaging has echoed that message.

The team returned back to the hotel for lunch and dinner, and immediately went to the player’s lounge to watch the South Korea – Norway quarterfinal matchup. The winner of that game would go on to play the U.S. on Friday in semifinals. A back-and-forth game turned into an overtime thriller that South Korea eventually won.

Friday’s matchup is now official: the U.S. and South Korea will faceoff again after ending Group A play yesterday, with an 8-0 USA victory.

Lakeside Cookie Co. sent a sweet reminder of support back home. The cookie company had previously made special team cookies to celebrate Team USA with red, white and blue cookies as well as individual player cookies. Every bit of support is important for the team heading into the most difficult part of the tournament. Have a message of support to the team? Make sure to send to @USAHockey on social media using #SledWorlds.

June 22 | Closing Out Prelims With A Win

Brody Roybal (Northlake, Ill.) scored four times and added an assist, while Kevin McKee (Chicago, Ill.) had a goal and two assists to lead the U.S. National Sled Team to an 8-0 victory over the South Korea in preliminary round play at the 2021 World Para Ice Hockey Championship.

With the victory, Team USA has earned a bye into the tournament semifinals on Friday (June 25). The U.S. opponent and game time will be determined following quarterfinal play on Thursday.

June 21 | Bus Ride Through Ostrava

After playing back-to-back games, Team USA had the day off today in Ostrava and elected not to practice. Maximizing rest and recovery for players can be even more important than hitting the ice, especially after back-to-back games.

Tournament officials offered a double-decker bus ride through the city, with a full panoramic window top floor of the bus. The tour was reminiscent of cruising through town back home, with fresh air rushing through your open windows in the cabin.

While players remain respectful of the bubble, and have had a very positive outlook on the situation, there’s no substitute for getting outside. Thankfully the hosts created a safe environment for a bus trip, and team host Adela was able to provide information about local landmarks throughout the city of Ostrava.

The bus traveled through old industrial factories, slowly decaying of rust and fatigue with the world around them. But scattered between the rust were new factories and buildings, just as a forest floor sprouts with new green growth around rotting logs. Then the team traveled near the entertainment district downtown, highlighted by Stodolni Street. As the bus climbed hills around the city, it slowed to a stop at the top of the hill so everyone could see over the entire cityscape of Ostrava. A quick stop to the zoo and government buildings rounded out the trip.

As the bus traveled through the city, locals waved and cheered as players returned waves through the windows. Last night’s game against the Czech Republic with 2,077 fans, a sellout with the COVID-19 restricted attendance, was a reminder that normalcy is just on the horizon following a difficult year. For these athletes, who hadn’t competed in almost a year and a half prior to this week’s games, a bus ride with waving fans was just another feeling of normalcy.

June 20 | Big Win Against Czech Republic

Jack Wallace (Franklin Lakes, N.J.) scored twice to lead the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team to a 4-0 win over the Czech Republic in preliminary round play here today at the 2021 Para Ice Hockey World Championship. Team USA put 51 shots on goal in the victory and did not allow a shot on goal in the contest.

“I thought today was a very solid performance from our group, and hats off to their goaltender for making more than 50 saves,” said head coach David Hoff. “We need to reset, just like we did yesterday, and focus on moving forward to Tuesday against South Korea.”

June 19 | Opening Game vs Canada

OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Team USA dropped a 2-1 decision in its opening preliminary round game of the 2021 Para Ice Hockey World Championships. Brody Roybal (Northlake, Ill.) was the lone scorer for the U.S.

“We want to keep playing forward and need to be physical, but stay out of the box,” said head coach David Hoff (Bottineau, N.D.). “We have to learn from it and come back tomorrow strong. I liked our energy in the third period and I think we can build on that.”

June 18 | Team Chemistry

A lot will be made of Team USA’s veteran core, with the three most experienced players set to play in their combined 20th World Championship. Steve Cash (8), Kevin McKee (6) and Josh Pauls (6) are just the first three names when looking at the U.S. roster that fans will be familiar with.

In total, 15 of the 17 players have previously played in a World Championship, with David Eustace and Joey Woodke set to make their respective debuts this year.

Familiarity and team chemistry is helpful every year on the ice, but this year it may play an even more important role off of it. With tournament bubble restrictions, most of the down time is spent together in the hotel playing video games, watching movies or playing cards. Even for the two players making World Championship debuts, they have been around the program and know most of the players through years of camps and competitions.

The familiarity extends beyond the U.S. team. Four players most recently played for the Nashville Sled Preds. Jack Wallace and Josh Misiewicz also joined the team this summer for training and recent life moves.

Hockey is the ultimate team sport, and despite COVID-19 safety restrictions, the team is still finding new ways to have fun every day. As structured, or monotonous, the schedule may appear on paper, there’s a new locker room DJ or game night host to liven things up.

As much fun as the team has had in Ostrava, there’s been even more anticipation to return to the ice. And after tonight’s sleep, the team will finally get its chance to defend its 2019 gold medal, as they square off against rival Canada.

June 17 | Iced Coffee

One of the ways that players show their individuality is with stickers. Most players will use the open space on the thigh of their prosthetic to put stickers of their favorite cities, bands, local restaurants and more.

Veteran forward Rico Roman has traveled all around the world, but it’s his local coffee shop is what he covets the most. Deadstock Coffee, a sneaker-themed coffee shop in Portland, Oregon, has a lot more memories of home than just coffee. It’s where Roman took his wife to propose, with a diamond ring waiting in her cup of coffee.

Speaking of coffee, the espresso machine is popular with the team every morning. Most of the team is accustomed to the popular American-style black coffee, but the delicious European-favored style of espresso creates a long line of thirsty anticipation as breakfast is served.

It’s all small details, but these small memories of delicious food, hanging out in the hotel and time in the locker room will be what makes this trip so special. While in a bubble, there is still plenty of time to hang out with teammates and have fun.

June 16 | A Focus On Community From Afar

One of the most unique aspects of playing for the U.S. National Sled Team is the sense of community. Players are spread out throughout the offseason, playing for local teams in cities across the United States. These teams have different skill levels throughout the lineup, ranging from national team athletes to beginners of the sport.

Not only do members of the team play competitively for these teams, they also coach and build programs. For instance, a national team athlete may be involved in coaching new players learning how to play sled hockey, while volunteering to help recruit new members for the club out in their respective community. In addition to hockey, many of the athletes also volunteer and focus on inspiring people every day through local youth organizations, military groups and cancer support networks.

“We have a lot of guys who want to give back, and are able to give back,” said team captain Josh Pauls.

This connection to community is important to both the athletes and the sport. Pauls, who first made his international debut during the 2008-09 season, has seen a lot change in hockey over the years and has been encouraged by recent initiatives and programs to make hockey more inclusive and welcoming. However, he wanted to do more.

While setting up his locker prior to the first day of practice, he thought about how he could give back during Pride Month. He had already thought to bring Pride Tape to the Czech Republic, but he also wanted to take action.

Pauls was recently announced as a board member for the Carnegie Initiative for Inclusion and Acceptance in Hockey, named after trailblazer Herb Carnegie. Their mission is simple: work to ensure that hockey is inclusive, supportive and welcoming to all. The initiative is conducting research, as well as collecting data and stories to help deliver facts in order to develop a more welcoming environment for hockey.

When it came time for action, Pauls thought of his home city and wanted to support Pride St. Louis, an organization that has supported the LGBTQ+ community for more than 40 years in St. Louis. To add a competitive twist, he wants his game to do the talking: $10 per point he scores, $20 for every USA win and a $50 donation if the team wins gold.

These are just the first step for Pauls, alongside teammates Brody Roybal, David Eustace and Kyle Zych. They have also made similar donation commitments in an effort to take action during Pride Month.

“We’re all going through that learning process as a team and becoming more educated,” said Pauls. “We’re family on this team. You never know when you’ll meet a gay teammate and I want to make sure they’re welcomed with open arms.”

Pauls scored six points in five games at the 2019 World Championship, while winning a gold medal. So, predictions for this year?

“I’m going to score 15 points for a good cause,” he said with a laugh.

June 15 | Hair Gel And Equipment Check

Team USA woke up to find that their quarantine had ended. All players and test confirmed their prior negative tests, and the full team was allowed to gather.

Following a traditional breakfast, with fried eggs, ham and fruit, the team checked out their team room on the hotel floor. For most of the tournament, due to the bubble, this will be one of the few areas players will freely go about their life, watching movies, talking and listening to music. In addition to the hotel space, the team can freely walk outside in the parking lot and yard area. Today’s breezy and sunny weather was the perfect forecast for a break outside.

Players and staff got their first look at Ostravar Arena late in the afternoon, arriving via bus, to settle into their tournament locker room. Travel can sometimes knock sled frames, sticks and other equipment out of peak condition. So much of the afternoon was focused on tweaking gear and getting the feel back for everything.

But first, headshots. Hair gel is a requirement for photo day, and probably a mirror. Everyone gave it their best smile, or mean mug, and the results are fantastic.

The day concluded with the team’s first practice. A ‘no rules’ practice helped emphasize the importance of creativity. Similar to every U.S. national team, the usage of cross-ice practices forces players into finding their creativity to get out of tight squeezes and high-pressure defensive attacks.

Dinner and down time put a final wrap on the day. The team has its sights on Saturday for its first tournament match against Canada, set for 3 p.m. local time and 9 a.m. ET.

June 14 | Arrival into Ostrava

Over the past month, the U.S. National Sled Team has prepared on the ice for the 2021 Para Sled Hockey World Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The tournament isn’t just important for the team because it’s a world championship, but it’s finally a return to normalcy after nearly a year and half off from competitive action.

The team has followed safety precautions, including testing, in order to ensure its safe entry into the Czech Republic. This included players and staff arriving early into New Jersey, home to Jack Wallace (Franklin Lakes, N.J.) and Josh Pauls (Green Brook, N.J.).

Which brings us to bagels. Players enjoyed every meal at the Marriott, a last taste of home cooking before nearly three weeks in Europe. But it was Wallace’s surprise breakfast of local bagels that really made people smile. There’s just something about the water.

Players and staff spent time watching movies, reading books, listening to music and sleeping over the course of a nine-hour flight. The fight against jet lag began as soon as the team landed. All of the team’s gear and luggage was loaded onto a bus ahead of four-hour bus ride into Ostrava.

Finally, the team underwent tournament testing to ensure that every safety precaution entering the country had worked effectively to avoid positive COVID-19 tests, and were treated to a lunch and dinner. It’s a safe bet that nearly everyone is looking forward to an early bedtime, especially after delicious meals of roast beef, soup and pastries.

The team returns to the ice tomorrow with practice at Ostravar Arena. It’s a building that the U.S. has celebrated winning gold twice, both in 2019 and 2009. It will hopefully be just as memorable for this 2021 crew.

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