Josh Pauls and the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team are just excited to be playing hockey on a regular basis again. Pauls and his teammates are back in action at the International Para Hockey Cup in Ostrava, Czechia.
“The past couple years have been really COVID-focused,” Pauls said. “It’s just super exciting to be able to get back to playing a lot of games. I’m really excited to get going.”
Pauls noted that the U.S. played only six games in 2021. Including mixed-squad scrimmages, the U.S. will play as many games this month as it did all last season, making the IPH Cup a thrilling time for Pauls and his teammates.
“It’s one of those things that I’m just really excited to be here with everybody,” Pauls said. “You don’t get this chance many times in a lifetime. It’s an honor.”
The roster includes 15 players who helped the Team USA capture an unprecedented fourth consecutive gold medal at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing.
The U.S. opened play at the International Para Hockey Cup on Saturday with a 9-1 win over the International Para Hockey team (Team IPH), which is a combination of players from Germany, Norway, and Slovakia. The U.S. will now follow up with games against Czechia and Canada before a semifinal round. The final will take place on September 30.
“Obviously, when you come to an event like this, it has a tournament format, so we want to be in that final game with the opportunity to try and win the tournament,” said U.S. head coach David Hoff. “But we also have to look at it from the perspective of evaluating and developing players. We’re really trying to focus on each of those things.”
Pauls leads from experience, as the 29-year-old has won four Paralympic gold medals and five world championships in his career. Pauls captained the gold medal-winning Paralympic in Beijing last March.
This is the first event for the U.S. since winning the gold medal and the start of a four-year cycle leading up to the 2026 Paralympic Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
“Development is a fun part of this, but part of the equation is how someone’s age fits into this over the next four years, whether you’re looking at a young kid or someone who is a bit older,” Hoff said. “I don’t know if there’s a perfect formula, but we talk about predicting someone’s development over the next four years, what we think the person might be and how they might fit in with this program.”
Pauls doesn’t want his gold medal in Beijing to be his last. Despite the long road ahead until another Paralympic Games, the captain is ready to lead his team in preparation.
“When you win the gold medal, that’s the stuff you dream about,” Pauls said. “Getting to watch the sacrifices we all had to make to achieve the ultimate goal was just so awesome. Now, we have to prepare ourselves to get ready to go again.”
Hoff said that he took time to appreciate the gold medal celebration over the summer. But he’s ready to get back to work and start a new season.
“I’m someone who believes you have to enjoy the fruits of your labor because the players put in so much work and sacrifice,” Hoff said. “But there also comes a time where you have to turn the page. This team is in a unique situation where we can still be awfully good in the future and our focus has to stay forward.”
After the tumultuous past several seasons, Pauls just can’t wait for his chance to return to the ice.
“I’m just excited to get back at it,” Pauls said. “I think the Paralympics are one of those years that ends the earliest for us, because most of the time, the world championship goes until April or May. It’s been a long layoff since March, so it’s going to be exciting to play games again.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.