The U.S. Sled National Team recently began its residency in Nashville, Tennessee, but head coach David Hoff told his group that now is not the time to relax with the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, on the horizon.
“I told the guys that this is the beginning of an opportunity,” Hoff said. “You need to approach it as though we are at the beginning and now we’re trying to get better from this point on. It’s really focusing on the process … the 40 days leading up to this, and in those 40 days, we have opportunities to continue to improve at things that will hopefully pay off when we get to the games in March.”
The U.S. has won sled hockey medals in all five Paralympic Games held since 2002, including a dominating run of gold in the three most recent Games. More recently, the U.S. also won the program’s fifth title in the World Para Ice Hockey Championships in June.
Noah Grove, who is in his second residency program with Team USA, captured a Paralympic gold medal in 2018 and two world championships, including the title this past June.
“This isn’t the same team from last year,” Grove said. “Every year, it just gets better and I think that’s something special with this group of guys. Everyone’s improved and it’s a noticeable improvement. So, we’re all extremely excited and we’re just going to keep grinding.”
David Eustace made his debut with the national team in the 2019-20 season and captured a world championship in 2021, but this is his first residency with the group.
“My goal has always been to get to the Paralympic Games and it actually feels real now,” Eustace said. “I am beyond excited to get better with the rest of the guys. Everybody has improved so much, and now we have two months to get to our peak.”
The group arrived in Nashville in mid-January and practiced the following day before attending meetings and settling into their housing situations. There’s a new level of excitement surrounding the program with the Paralympic tournament so close.
“These guys are like family to me,” Grove said. “They’re all my best friends. So for me, living in a house with my best friends is awesome. There’s nothing I’d rather do. These guys are my brothers. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else because everyone here has the same goal in mind.”
Hoff has coached the national team for the last three seasons, which includes back-to-back gold medals at the world championships. This is Hoff’s first appearance as head coach of the Paralympic team, but he was an assistant to Guy Gosselin at the 2018 Games.
Hoff can see the closeness between this year’s group.
“The thing that’s nice about this team is that they genuinely enjoy being together, so this is a lot of fun for them,” Hoff said. “There’s that excitement of just getting to be together. As much as it’s about sled hockey and trying to be the best players that we can, we have a bunch of guys that just really like each other.”
The Paralympic Winter Games are set to run from March 4-14 in Beijing. The U.S. defeated Japan, Czechia, South Korea and Italy by a combined 38-1 margin before edging out Canada, 2-1, in overtime to claim the 2018 Paralympic gold medal.
Hoff said the U.S. isn’t currently focused on the prize at the end, but the journey to reach the top of the mountain.
“We know we’re going to be the target for everyone, but in some ways I guess we earned that based on how things have gone,” Hoff said. “We’re trying to focus on the things we can control. What can we do on and off the ice that will give us the best chance to be successful.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.