The U.S. is set to take on Canada in the first of three games for the 2023 Sled Series Wednesday night in Elmira, Ont.
This marks the last meeting between the two teams this season prior to the Para Sled Hockey World Championship at the end of May, and Team USA is using it as another chance to bond as a team both on and off the ice.
“When we get into these games against Canada, against other countries, that’s where it really gets dialed in and you want to get more serious and want to make sure you’re winning all the time,” said Josh Pauls, captain of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team.
The team doesn’t take anything for granted and is taking every opportunity to improve.
“We take advantage of all the training opportunities we get,” Pauls said. “But just getting to hang out with the guys I think is the best part. It’s the guys that keep coming back that keep staying hungry, and watching the younger generation come up.”
The 2023 Sled Series in Elmira marks the first time the event has taken place since 2020, where the U.S. won both games in the two-game series. The U.S. has an 8-0-0-3-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L-T) record against Canada in its last 12 series-specific games.
“These are the last games we’re going to get to play before World Championships, so for us, it’s about shoring up defensively and making sure we’re doing all the right things to play well defensively,” Pauls said.
“Obviously we’re a very offensive team we like handling the puck and we like scoring. I mean, what hockey player doesn’t? But for us, it’s making sure we take care of the defensive side of things and working on our gap, working on how we can close gaps under control, but still play fast and play to our strengths as a team.”
This U.S. National Sled Hockey Team is coming off impressive wins in international competition, winning the IPH cup in September 2022, and winning an unparalleled seventh-straight Para Hockey Cup in December 2022.
These championships have worked to bring the team closer than ever. Long hours of travel, a multitude different hotel rooms and exploring new cities have allowed the team to build strong camaraderie that translates off the ice as well.
“It’s getting to walk across the street to go get some coffee and explore the town of Waterloo,” Pauls said. “At the end of the day, hockey’s hockey and everybody wants to win, but it’s getting the chance to, you know, compete in Xbox games when we’re sitting at the hotel trying to kill a little time, or whether we’re playing cards or just enjoying each other’s company. That’s really what the strength of this team is, it’s how much we enjoy being with each other, and that definitely translates on the ice, because we’re willing to battle for each other.
Not only does the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team hope to emerge from this series triumphant, but it will also look to bring this momentum into the next couple of months of training and into a successful Sled Worlds.
“I think these three games against Team Canada are going to be a real great tune-up for Worlds coming up,” Pauls said. “But we know that, in practice and at home day in and day out, that’s where we get better. Here, we get to fine-tune all those things that we’ve worked on, but it’s also going to be the work we put in between now and when the World Championship starts, and I know all of our guys are excited to get going.”