BEIJING - The 2022 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team is a melting pot of talent and experience. Captain Josh Pauls leads the way with four Paralympic appearances, and has set the record for most games played in the Paralympics by a U.S. Sled Hockey Player. Rico Roman, Jen Lee, Declan Farmer, Kevin McKee and Brody Roybal have each competed in three Games. Travis Dodson, Jack Wallace, Ralph DeQuebec, Josh Misiewicz and Noah Grove are now two-time veterans.
Enter the newcomers, Evan Nichols, Malik Jones, Joey Woodke, Griffin Lamarre, Kyle Zych and David Eustace. The rookies of the squad who were all expected to play a big part in the success of the team. So far so good. All six players making their Paralympic debut have now played, and have made an impact right off the bat.
“it's pretty amazing for them to have the level of success they have had at the the young age that they are. I mean, for Evan to come in having not played a ton and make a national team is pretty impressive,” said Pauls. “He was telling me a story about when he first made the team, he thought he was getting called up to the Development Team and he got a call to the big boys.”
Nichols recorded three points in his debut against South Korea. Jones scored in his debut match and added two goals to boot in his second game against South Korea. He was a player that caught the eyes of the coaching staff early on and whom players expected to make an impact with his skill.
“Malik is Malik,” said Pauls. “We call him the wizard because of the stuff he does in the kitchen, but also because of the stuff he does on the ice. He had that tip goal [in the first game] and a couple more in the second. I think he's obviously evolving as a player. He's a goal scorer first and he's a he's one of those offensive players. But while he has room to grow, I think he's showing a great start at 19 years old.”
For a guy like Roybal, he knows exactly what the players are going through in making their Paralympic debuts, especially the young guys like Nichols (17) and Jones (19). Roybal made his Paralympic debut at 15 when he graced the ice at the Sochi Games. He became the youngest player to score a goal for the U.S. at the Paralympics.
“To have the young guys coming up, I was in their exact same shoes back in 2014. I think they’ve done an even better job than Declan and I at just transitioning right into the team so smoothly.
“I think it has a lot to do with just how our team is today, too. We have such a great group of guys and to have those guys we added, it’s been awesome. It breathes a lot of life into the team and into the future of our sport.”
Roybal offered up some advice to the guys that are making their debuts in 2022—live in the moment. It is something he wished he would have done a little bit more in 2014.
“It was just so surreal to be a 15-year-old kid going from high school classes to playing on the world stage in front of 10,000 people. It was surreal. I don’t think I could have soaked it in as much as I could have, and I think these guys are doing a great job.”
It has been a long build up to these Games with a month-long residency program in Nashville. It offered the chance for the team to really bond together and grow in their on and off-ice relationships. One of the big takeaways from this team is they all refer to each other as a family, whether you are like Pauls, the senior veteran in terms of games played, or Nichols, one of the youngest players on all of the 67-member Team USA roster.
“I think it just shows the character in the locker room that we've built in this team that, you know, even if you're a rookie that we're willing to put you right into the center stage and right into the spotlight right away,” said Wallace. “They’ve handled it with absolute class.”
Zych has collected a point in his first Paralympics and Eustace has played a key role on the third line. Woodke was a plus-one in the first match against Canada and LaMarre saw his first action against South Korea after spending a number of years on the Development Team. Head Coach David Hoff has said from the beginning that everybody is going to be expected to contribute throughout the tournament. It is a reason why he has wanted to get everybody involved, especially considering the preliminary round was shifted from three games to two with RPC being banned. Hoff felt like it was crucial to get everyone playing time.
“We are at a point where now everyone has had a chance to get in the lineup and now we’ve got a starting point. Everyone has gotten their first games in on the Paralympic stage. So now over the next few days, it’s about improving. It’s about finding those things we can do individually and as a team so that we feel like we are firing on all cylinders for the semifinals.”