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Two Rookies Finding Place With National Sled Team

By Jeff Hawkins, 04/07/17, 8:10AM EDT


Forward Noah Grove and Defenseman Jack Wallace Finding Groove

Noah Grove recalls going into the corner to retrieve a loose puck. He remembers looking up. He still feels the fright, bracing for an impact by Jack Wallace.

“He’s huge,” Grove said.

And can he deliver a check. Nobody knows that better than Grove, who received plenty. “When I first started skating against Jack, he intimidated me,” Grove said.

And now?

“I can give him a run for his money,” said Grove, a rookie forward on the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team that is preparing to compete in the 2017 World Para Sled Hockey Championship in Gangneung, South Korea, from April 11-20.

On a team dominated by established veterans who have played prominent roles in capturing five consecutive international titles entering the 2016-17 season, the national program’s other rookie trying to find his way is Wallace, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman who brings a gritty edge to the roster. Grove and Wallace developed a friendship the past few years as members of the U.S. Development Sled Hockey Team, but when they were rivals, they often targeted each other.Their first encounters came at the junior level and Wallace considered Grove “a little annoying” because of his speed and scoring ability. 

Noah Grove (left), Jack Wallace (right)

Grove established a reputation for being a playmaker, but one who covers both ends of the ice. When the two graduated to the adult leagues, Wallace realized, “Oh, I can hit that kid now.” And he tried. A few times he was successful, but as Grove absorbed the abuse, he devised ways to avoid the bruiser.

It all started with speed. Grove is one of Team USA’s fastest skaters. Wallace is one of the team’s hardest hitters. Both have drawn praise from Guy Gosselin, who will coach the program through the world championships following the passing of former head coach Jeff Sauer on Feb. 2.“Grove and Wallace are very coachable kids,” Gosselin said. “Their hockey IQ will evolve. Both are talented and are just hitting the tip of the iceberg.”

Grove and Wallace helped Team USA claim the 2016 (Dec.) World Sled Hockey Challenge

A senior in high school, Grove is prepared to attend the University of New Hampshire next fall. Wallace is a freshman at College of New Jersey, studying biomedical engineering. Like he said: “It’s a grind on the ice and grind off it.”

Wallace attended his first sled hockey development camp in 2010 and has been around the program ever since. His interest was piqued when he first met teammate Josh Pauls, who then was playing his final season with the development team. Wallace was in his first season and later followed Pauls’ career with the national squad as he captured two Paralympic gold medals in 2014 and 2010.

The opportunity to compete for Team USA was a big draw for Wallace. “You can go to the Paralympics for this?” he thought. “I saw it as a way to go somewhere with the sport."

During the team’s two recent four-day training camps, Wallace said he was primarily paired with captain Andy Yohe, a good indication Gosselin intends to keep the rookie’s physicality in the world championship lineup. 

Grove, meanwhile, has been skating on a line with two two-year veterans in Luke McDermott and Chris Douglas. Team USA’s roster includes 17 players, but tournament rules state only 15 can dress. Both players understand the numbers.

“I wouldn’t be too surprised [to be one of the two scratches] and I’m not going to be concerned with it,” Grove said. “I know I can hold my own.”

One aspect of his game that Wallace has been working on is positioning. Young big hitters have a tendency to venture out of their zones, seeking to unload a check. Wallace said he has been working to play with more discipline.

To jump in or not to jump in. That is Wallace’s question.

“Sometimes passion and emotion can get the best of you,” he said. “When to jump in and when to stay back, that’s one of the parts of the game where you have to put the team first.”

Now instead of looking to, “Just lay someone out,” Wallace is searching to create a turnover or adequately cover his man. Instead of seeking to make a big hit, he is vying to make the little, fundamental plays.

“I’ve learned so much and I haven’t spent a full season with them yet,” Wallace said.

Once rivals, the two rookies have bonded by finding their own way with the established program and paving a path for the next generation to come.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

U.S. Schedule

Date (U.S) Opponent Result U.S. Player of Game
April 12 Sweden W, 7-0 Brody Roybal
April 13 Italy W, 9-1 Declan Farmer
April 15 Germany W, 9-0 Josh Pauls
April 17 Canada W, 2-1 Kevin McKee
April 17 Norway W, 6-0 Tyler Carron
April 19 Korea W, 5-0 Jack Wallace
April 20 Canada
Gold-Medal Game
L, 1-4 Andy Yohe

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