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U.S. Ready to Get Back to Competition in Semifinals

By Kyle Huson, 03/10/22, 10:00AM EST


Team faced nearly a week off following two preliminary round wins

BEIJING - The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team came to Beijing with the thought of playing three preliminary-round games. They didn’t come halfway across the world just to practice and had every intention of sweeping the preliminary round.

Following the banishment of the Russian Paralympic Committee, meaning the cancellation of the final preliminary round game initially scheduled for Tuesday, the U.S. faced an unexpectedly long layoff. They opened up play on Friday, March 4 with a 5-0 victory over Canada and then followed that performance with a 9-1 win the next day against South Korea. That meant clinching the top spot in Group A and an automatic berth to the semifinals.

The only problem was the semifinals were not set to begin until Friday — a five-day layoff, and nearly six if you factor in the team is playing the later semifinal game. The team is ready to play against someone other than themselves, and it could spell disaster for the host country, China.

“It’s been a great week of practice. The boys are buzzing right now,” said Noah Grove, who won the team’s hard hat at practice on Thursday. “Everyone is itching to play and we feel like we are as prepped as ever for this game right now."

There is sure to be excitement and energy in the National Indoor Stadium for the primetime matchup. China cruised through Group B before narrowly beating Czechia as the fourth seed—they scored with less than two minutes to go to secure a 4-3 win. They routinely saw fans all over the bench side of the arena, where they were allowed. And just like every competition thus far at the Games, the fans have brought the noise. This could be a welcome addition for the U.S., who has largely played without fans over the past two seasons due to COVID-19 protocols.

“I’ve played the host country a couple of times,” said Grove. “Back in Ostrava for Worlds, and it’s a fantastic atmosphere. Their fans have been there for a couple of games already, and I know the house is going to be rocking and everyone is going to be rooting against us but we love that kind of pressure.”

“There’s going to be a lot of support for China,” said head coach David Hoff. “I think that’s fun for our guys to be in that environment. I’m happy for our guys. We just have to play well, limit the things they do well, and hopefully, in the end, we’ll come out on top.

The U.S. entered the Paralympic Games as the favorites and have done nothing to show that that should change. In fact, if the first two games have shown anything it’s that the U.S. continues to get better and better. They will certainly enter the semifinals as the favorites against China. 

The focus in practice this week has been to clean up things both individually and as a team. Tuesday morning consisted of what you might call a normal practice, with the team working on systems, breakouts, and the like. Wednesday was a full competition day — a lot of small area games, battle drills, and finishing up with some full ice three-on-three competition. Thursday was a lighter practice with a focus on fine-tuning some things before the big game.

According to staff and players, there was no denying that playing one less game in the preliminary round would be a hindrance to anybody. They needed to make sure they were sharp heading into the semifinals in order to earn a berth to their fourth-straight gold-medal match. They feel like they will be as ready as ever when the puck drops at 8:05pm local time (7:05amET).

Paralympic Roster

“I think we need to make sure we take care of the puck,” said Hoff. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of the puck, take care of the middle of the ice and keep people to the outside.”

“I’m pumped, I know everyone is pumped,” said Grove. “We’ve been prepping for this moment for the last four years, so tomorrow is a good opportunity to show what we have been working toward.”

2022 Paralympic Notebook

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