For many years, Josh Pauls knew that if he made a mistake on the ice for the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, he didn’t have to worry: Goaltender Steve Cash always had his back.
“To be honest, it’s pretty nice having him back there,” said Pauls, a defenseman and team captain. “You knew if you screwed up, you always had someone to bail you out. More often than not, he was able to make the big save, the timely save, when we needed it.”
Cash, 32, announced his retirement last Monday after 16 years with Team USA. He walks away with three Paralympic gold medals, a bronze, five world championships and more than 100 victories.
“That just doesn’t happen. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what country you play for, I don’t care what level of hockey you’re at, that’s not common,” said Pauls of Cash’s longevity. “It’s just absolutely insane. He’s an absolute legend. But I think the best part is, to me, he’s really just my friend.”
Pauls met Cash on the national team in 2009 and grew closer to him when Pauls in 2011 moved out to the St. Louis area where Cash lived and trained. Pauls watched how Cash carried himself and learned from him.
“I learned a ton about how to be a national team athlete, how to be a pro, how to just really dedicate yourself to the game,” Pauls said. “I learned so much from him, from work ethic to how hard he worked in the gym, to just his attitude on the ice and his demeanor.
“He cared, and you could always tell that he was passionate about it, and if guys weren’t ready to go, he let them know. But he was always a guy that wasn’t going to project on anybody else.
“He always led by example. That made the times he did speak up all that more important because you knew if he was saying something, it was damn important.”
Pauls called Cash the best teammate he’s ever had and said it will be “weird” playing without him.
“He’s just the ultimate team guy,” Pauls said. “He was willing to do whatever, even if he didn’t want to, even if he was tired. It didn’t matter.
“It was going to get done because he knew he was a leader on this team. He’s been the heart and soul of this team for 16 years.”
As great a player and leader as Cash has been, Pauls wants people to know that he’s an even better person.
“He’s just a phenomenal human being,” Pauls said. “That kind of sums him up. He’s that guy that would give you the shirt off his back if he knew that you needed it more.”
A favorite memory of Pauls’ was skating onto the ice for the gold medal game in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
“It was Steve in net, and then me and Billy Hanning started on the blue line in that game,” Pauls said. “That was an all-St. Louis defense. So, that was a really cool thing.”
Pauls said Cash has, and will continue to have, an impact on sled hockey.
“I think he’s going to inspire a lot of kids to play goalie,” Pauls said. “I think he’s really revolutionized the way we think about a goalie in sled because he was so fast, so quick. He’s changed the position for the better.
“But I think truly his legacy is going to be one of just setting the bar super, super high for yourself and always adhering to that. Anybody can set the bar high, but it takes consistency and excellence to maintain that standard.”
Cash will always be a part of this team, according to Pauls.
“We’re going to keep him around,” Pauls said. “We’re just excited to see what the future holds for him.”
Count Steve’s former backup netminder Jen Lee among those who will miss Cash’s presence. The two-time gold medalist remembers being introduced to Cash when Lee joined the team in 2011.
“He was very humble, very chillax,” Lee recalled. “He didn’t really come off like he was the best in the world. He was just a regular, cool dude.”
Then Lee watched Cash change as he stepped onto the ice. The focus and competitiveness became obvious.
“He doesn’t really need to talk about who he is,” Lee said. “He just shows that. He plays … with a chip on his shoulder.”
As his backup for a decade, Lee had the good fortune to watch Cash up close and appreciate what he was seeing.
“He just never fell off,” Lee said. “He’s going to challenge every shot. He’s going to make every save. He’s going to do the best he can. He’s just an unbelievable guy, man. He’s the greatest of all time.”
Lee picked up Cash’s traits and applied them to his own game.
“I think the biggest thing for me is understanding the amount of that locked-in focus that he had,” Lee said. “He’s a very competitive guy. He was able to make those big saves.
“For me, it’s big shoes to fill, for sure. He raised the bar from day one. He left this game better than it was.”
Lee called Cash “the silent leader. We all know Stevie is … very loose in the locker room. He gets along with everybody very well. Everybody adores him, everybody loves him. He’s a funny guy, as well.
“Stevie’s not just a great hockey player. He’s a great leader, but most importantly, he’s a great friend. He’s a brother to all of us.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.