The U.S. National Sled Team is excited for the upcoming 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, but they’re not ready to go to Beijing, China, just yet.
The preparation is actually just beginning.
The three-time defending gold medalists held a training camp earlier this month in Madison, Wisconsin, ahead of a a two-game exhibition series against Canada in St. Louis on Friday (Oct. 29) and Saturday (Oct. 30).
“Ultimately, you obviously want to end up winning the tournament in Beijing, but these camps are just going through the process and doing things the right way,” coach David Hoff said. “We really try to focus on improvement because I think we all, as a staff, like where we were at this summer, but I think we can still get better and that has to be our focus.”
The national team is starting off in a pretty good place based off its most recent competition. The national team last played together in June and claimed the program’s fifth World Para Ice Hockey Championship title. Declan Farmer scored twice and added an assist, while Jack Wallace contributed three helpers as the U.S. earned a 5-1 victory against Canada in the gold-medal game.
Farmer, a two-time Paralympic gold medalist, is looking forward to the journey to Beijing.
“Just getting to the first camp of the season, I was so excited,” Farmer said. “We just finished worlds a couple months ago, so it felt like so long since we’ve been together as a team. It’s so much fun showing up. We compete hard against each other and I think that’s what makes us so good is we breed that competitive spirit in our practices.”
Hoff was excited to be able to carry extra players from into the first camp earlier this month in Madison. He said the plan is to carry several extra players through the two-game set in St. Louis, as well.
“I thought that made the camp really, really good,” Hoff said. “It made it really nice in terms of competitive environment, and I think we’re just trying to make sure we get the players that fit. It’s gotten so competitive to make this team, so I think giving everyone a fair opportunity is important.”
Hoff said that his team’s strong showing started with the first workout in Madison earlier this month.
“There’s usually heavy legs just because of travel, but I thought we had a really good first practice,” Hoff said. “I thought we had a really good training camp. It was the right way to start the season, for sure.”
Another Paralympic gold medal, of course, would be the perfect way for Farmer and the U.S. to finish the season in Beijing.
“It will be a lot harder to win,” Farmer said. “We can’t just assume we’re going to go in and win. It’s going to take a lot, so we have to be ready for the uncertainty that will be thrown at us in this tournament. We beat Canada in the [world championship] gold-medal game, and they’re going to be motivated and ready to go.”
Hoff intends to counter that by focusing on continued improvement throughout the course of the next several months.
“We can’t get caught looking at trying to win a gold medal,” Hoff said. “We have to focus on trying to be the best sled hockey team that we can. If we do that, hopefully the result is that we’ll be able to win at the end.”
The No. 1 goal for Farmer and his teammates is defending their gold medal from the 2018 Paralympic Games.
“We’re really confident in ourselves and our team, and where we’re at as a team now as far as both the team chemistry level and our individual talent,” Farmer said. “We know that it’s going to be a lot tougher to continue winning because getting to the top is hard, but staying there is even harder.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.