Important progress in the growth of women’s sled hockey is taking place this weekend and the U.S. Women's Development Sled Hockey Team is playing host. The inaugural Para Ice Hockey Women's World Challenge is taking place Aug. 26-28 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, at Cornerstone Community Center.
A goal more than 10 years in the making, U.S. coach Rose Misiewicz said this tournament is an important advance along the path that many competing this weekend hope will lead to women’s sled hockey becoming a part of the Paralympics.
“It's more or less an eight-year path to get the women's sled hockey in the Paralympics,” Misiewicz said. “Each year we have to accomplish certain things to keep moving forward. This was the first kind of checkbox and it's so exciting.”
The round-robin tournament features the U.S., teams from Canada and Great Britain, and a Team World whose roster is made up of athletes from several nations. Teams will be seeded based on their results from the first two days of games and will then play in the championship and third-place games on Sunday.
The pressure is on for Team USA, who will be looking to claim a title on home ice. In order to do so, they’ll need to harness the off-ice emotions and be focused. In some ways, it’s difficult for the players who’ve been working for this goal to believe that this moment is here. Alternate captain Kelsey DiClaudio said it feels a little surreal.
“It honestly just started to become real once I got here with the team and I think the rest of the team feels the same way. The nerves are there, but they're good nerves. They’re motivating,” she said. “Our team is really good at adapting.”
Beyond the jitters that come before a big game, there’s an additional feeling of pressure to perform and make the most of this opportunity that has been more than a decade in the making. But she knows what her team is capable of and says they’re ready to show how good they are.
“There's always an aspect of feeling that we need to prove ourselves,” DeClaudio said. “There's a need and there's such passion and dedication for this sport.”
Much like in the Olympics, the biggest rivalry in Green Bay will be between the U.S. and Canada. The Americans face their northern neighbors in their first game of the tournament tonight (Aug. 26) at 7:30 pm ET, and fans who can’t be in attendance can watch the stream on YouTube.
The two teams are closely matched, having each won a three-game series against the other in recent years. Team USA’s roster features a number of teenagers, who bring speed and exuberance to the ice alongside their more veteran teammates.
Getting the younger players involved is necessary for the growth of women’s sled hockey. Part of what makes this tournament so exciting is the exposure it will give the sport. With an eight-year timeline, Misiewicz said there are girls who’ll watch these games that will end up representing their country when women’s sled hockey makes it to the Paralympics.
“This is a huge step for the program,” she said. “Having this tournament is a huge step within the United States and internationally to grow the sport.”
In order to be considered for the Paralympics, there needs to be at least six teams competing in the sport. Beyond providing a necessary fourth team for the tournament, the hope is that the individual players from a variety of countries will take their experience from Green Bay with them back to their countries to help develop more women’s sled hockey teams.
“It's cool to see a lot of those players stepping up to get this experience and to take that back to hopefully build teams in other nations,” Misiewicz said. “We can get to the Paralympics if there are other nations working to get to the Paralympics, too.”
This tournament is part of the International Paralympic Committee’s new grassroots to high performance program, called PARA SPORT.
“It's really refreshing to have so much outside support,” DiClaudio said. “It's really cool to see all these people coming together to support us. We're going to grow hopefully exponentially from here.”
The tournament is a first for the players, but is also breaking ground for the officials, as well. All eight International Technical Officials taking to the ice will be women.
Games take place today (Aug. 26), Saturday (Aug. 27) and Sunday (Aug. 28) at the Cornerstone Community Center in Green Bay. The third-place game is at 12 pm ET on Sunday, followed by the championship game at 4 pm ET.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.