For the second straight year, the Para Ice Hockey Women’s World Challenge will be held in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
And for the second straight year, the U.S. Women’s Development Sled Hockey Team is hoping to earn the title on its home ice.
In last year’s inaugural tournament, the U.S. beat Canada 5-1 in the title game to cap off a 4-0 record.
Team USA returns 16 players who competed in last year’s tournament. Missing from this year’s squad is captain Erica McKee, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.
The U.S. roster features a nice balance of veteran leadership mixed with young, up-and-coming players.
“It works out really well, just to have very wise eyes on the team and then you have fresh eyes who are willing to learn and who don’t really have a habit built up yet,” Lera Doederlein said. “That’s the exciting part about having younger players. They’re so fresh to it at the level that we play at where there’s a lot to learn and grow. It’s a good balance on the team.”
There are nine players on the team who will turn 30 or older in 2023. On the opposite spectrum, there are six players who are 20 or younger.
At just 20 years old, Doederlein is becoming one of the veterans on the squad. There are four 18-year-olds — all skaters — on the roster in Jamie Benassi, Catherine Faherty, Chloe Kirkpatrick and Kayden Herchenroether. Madeline Gallagher is the youngest player on the team, having just turned 16 earlier this month.
The next wave of American sled hockey players is starting now, and the future looks bright.
“It’s been a big honor for me at least being on the team as one of the youngest players,” said Doederlein, who is a dual sport athlete and alsocompeted on the U.S. Paralympic Nordic skiing team at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing. “I joined the team back when I was 17 years old and just being able to look up to my captains Sarah Bettencourt, Erica McKee and Kelsey DiClaudio, being a younger athlete and looking up to those kinds of people on your team has made a very big difference for me, and I’ve seen it in my younger teammates.”
Now the five players younger than Doederlein on the roster will get a similar experience that she’s had in past tournaments with the team.
Doederlein, a San Diego native, has watched the veteran athletes really embrace the younger players and show them the ropes of what it takes to compete at this level.
“They’re just very good at opening us up to everything that we need to knowand are very welcoming players, which was a big part of how we all got comfortable playing with each other at such a fast pace,” Doederlein said.
Doederlein once again credited DiClaudio for giving great advice to herself and her teammates. While she values the decades of experience some of the veterans bring, she also noted that every player on the roster brings value on and off the ice.
“It’s all just kind of collectively added up for us,” she said. “Every camp we’re learning something new, and every tournament, every game, every period of a game even we’re learning something new, whether it’s from veterans or younger players and all of us kind of have something to contribute to the team. It’s a good way to learn from each other.”
The U.S. will be competing against Canada, Great Britain and Team World at this year’s World Challenge.
Doederlein feels like it’s going to be an even more competitive field than last year.
“The teams have had a lot more time together to grow their sport,” Doederlein said. “Athletes from Team World especially have been able to take their skills and maybe new equipment back home to play with their new teammates and peers or whatnot.”
One player who stands out on Team World’s roster is Lena Schroeder, who became the second woman to ever play at the Paralympics when she suited up for Norway at the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
Team USA heads into the tournament with the same goal as it always shoots for.
“We’re going for the title,” Doederlein said. “We want to go undefeated again this year and just sharpen up our skates.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc