As the U.S. Olympic Women’s Team continues preliminary round play and the U.S. Olympic Men’s Team waits to kick off action in Beijing, halfway across the world their Team USA teammates are preparing hard for the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team has been in residency in Nashville, Tenn. since mid-January. One month out from the Paralympic Games, the excitement continues to ramp up on and off the ice.
“The camp has been good,” said Kevin McKee, who will be skating in his third Paralympics come March. “The guys are competing out here and really giving it their all. We came into this camp knowing that we only had about a month out. We’re just really focused on getting better and pushing each other.
Brody Roybal is set to compete in his third Paralympics as well. The forward echoed McKee’s sentiments about camp.
“We are so excited. A couple of us have been down here for almost two years now, and it’s felt like we’ve been training for a really long time. Now that we’re only 30 days away, it’s feeling really real now and we’re excited to get over there.”
The team typically arrives at the Ford Ice Center, one of the practice facilities for the Nashville Predators, around 9:00 a.m. to prepare for a 10:00 a.m. practice. The focus is there right from the get-go.
The formal practice lasts from 10-11:15 a.m., and the final 45 minutes of ice time are reserved for the players to do whatever they want. While players may take the opportunity to get off the ice early, the entirety of the Paralympic Sled team typically stays on the ice to work on individual skills, and even match up for a full-ice 4-on-4 scrimmage.
Then it is off the ice, right? Not necessarily. If there is a stick and puck after practice, the guys will take the opportunity to cool down while the Zamboni finishes resurfacing the ice and then hop on to work on more skills together. The dedication from the team is evident every day.
One player who will be competing in his second Paralympics is Jack Wallace. Wallace has grown up on the U.S. National Sled Team and is excited to continue the quest for his second-straight gold medal and an unprecedented fourth-straight victory for the U.S.
“[Camp has been] absolutely fantastic. We have a big message on the team where we’ve been on the top of the mountain before, but nothing grows at the top of the mountain,” he said. “Our mentality is to try to bring it back down to a level where we can grow from.
“The ideology from this training camp has been everyone working together to get back to the top. We just want to keep striving to get better every day.”
Wallace knows what it will be like for his teammates that are set to compete in their first Games. Though many of them have played in World Championships and other tournaments before, the Paralympics are at a whole other level.
“This one is definitely a lot different. It’s not my first time and really that’s the biggest difference, knowing what to expect and preparing for it a little bit better.
“For the younger guys, my biggest piece of advice would just be to appreciate it when you go. It’s such an amazing experience and a privilege to get to go.”
The hard work is there. The effort and intensity are there. The stakes at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games may be higher than ever for Team USA, but even so, Roybal took the chance to offer one more piece of advice to the team.
“Really the only advice I can give is just soak it all in when you get there. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and when you’re there, just take a moment to realize that you’re a part of this thing that is bigger than you, and just have fun while you’re over there.