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U.S. Sled Team Back on Czech Ice Competing Ahead of Worlds

By Bob Reinert, 06/18/21, 10:15AM EDT


Players will look to recapture gold medal standard after long layoff

In search of their fifth title since 2009, a deep, experienced U.S. National Sled Hockey Team will compete at the 2021 World Para Ice Hockey Championship June 19-26 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

The U.S. team is seeking its second straight world championship. The Americans won gold in 2019, also hosted in Ostrava, by defeating Canada, 3-2, in overtime in the championship game on a goal from Brody Roybal of Northlake, Illinois. The U.S. came from behind twice in that game. The Americans also won gold at Ostravar Arena in 2009.

Team USA begins its quest June 19 at 9 a.m. ET on the Olympic Channel and streaming at or with a preliminary round game against rival Canada. This year’s event will feature three days of preliminary round play, two days of playoff games, and a medal round.

The Americans also have preliminary round games against the Czech Republic on June 20 and South Korea on June 22.

Team USA has brought a veteran team into the competition. Fifteen of its members return from last season, and everyone on its 17-player roster has at least a year’s experience with the national team. A dozen of those players have won Paralympic gold medals on U.S. teams.

“All of these guys have seen what it's like to compete at the highest level, which speaks to the depth of our player pool,” said Dan Brennan, director of sled national teams for USA Hockey and general manager of the 2021 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. “After such a challenging year, it is exciting to get everyone back together.”

Among the U.S. leaders are team captain and defenseman Josh Pauls of Green Brook, New Jersey and alternate captain and forward Declan Farmer of Tampa, Florida. This is the fourth straight year that Pauls and Farmer have served in those roles. Pauls and goaltender Steve Cash of Overland, Missouri, were part of the unprecedented three consecutive Paralympic gold medal-winning teams fielded from 2010 to 2018 by the U.S.

At the 2019 world championship, Farmer led Team USA with 14 points and seven assists and was tied with Jack Wallace of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, for the team lead in goals with seven.

The world championship marks the first competition for Team USA after more than a year of being idled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We didn’t even know we were having a season a few months ago, so it’s super exciting,” Farmer said. “It’s just been so long since we’ve played a game. It’ll be a little bit of a shock just jumping back into a game. We’re conditioned well. It will be more just putting it together mentally. It has been a long time.”

Pauls said the pandemic couldn’t keep this hard-working team down.

“It’s obvious everybody’s been putting in the work,” Pauls said. “Our guys have done just such a phenomenal job of staying in shape, making sure they’re grinding every day. We’ve been able to stay connected. I just couldn’t be more proud of how the guys have handled themselves.”

When the team finally got back together for practices, it was obvious how eager everyone was to compete again. That’s why Farmer believes the U.S. will be ready for Canada.

“Our practices are so hard,” Farmer said. “We compete hard, so we’re prepared for that. Guys are going to be super pumped up. I’m going to be super pumped up.”

Pauls said that the U.S. and Canada face the same challenges going into the first game.

“I think it’ll be a shock to the system for both of us,” Pauls said. “They’re our biggest competition, and I don’t think we would want to really start with anybody else. I think it’s just going to be so much fun to get right into it. There’s no time for nerves, especially for some of our younger and newer guys. I think we’ve always responded pretty well with that.”

Pauls added that the real goal for Team USA isn’t that opening game.

“It’s not about being the best team on day one,” Pauls said. “It’s about being the best team at the end of the tournament, and I think we’re well on our way.”

There’s no question in Farmer’s mind that the U.S. will be the target of the other teams in the tournament.

“Teams do want to knock us off,” Farmer said. “We always are expecting our opponents’ best. We know it’s going to be tough. We’re getting everyone’s best. We’re ready for it.”

Pauls agreed with that assessment.

“Anytime you win a world championship, everybody’s gunning for you,” Pauls said. “You’re the team to beat. Nobody’s won a single game yet because the tournament hasn’t started. We’re all kind of on even footing right now."

In his third season as head coach of the U.S. national team, David Hoff of Bottineau, North Dakota, said the team continues to improve every year.

“I think the biggest thing is we compete really well, and that’s been kind of our motto here,” Hoff said. “Our competitiveness is what this is all about.”

While Hoff is concentrating on the world championship, he acknowledged that this tournament will set the table for next year’s Paralympic Winter Games.

“You have a short-term view on this, but you also have to have a long-term vision,” Hoff said. “Our focus right now is on where we’re at here.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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