Guy Gosselin (Grafton, Wis.), two-time Olympian and head coach of the 2017-18 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, takes a very old-school approach to breeding success.
“We need to continue that ‘all for one, one for all’ mentality and play together as a team,” said Gosselin, who is in his first year as head coach and will lead them at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. “We’re a tight knit group of guys and we’re looking to excel this year.”
Gosselin’s first full season as head coach could not have gone any better, as the U.S. swept its way to the championship of the World Sled Hockey Challenge this past weekend in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
The U.S. dominated through the preliminary round and semifinals, shutting out both South Korea (8-0) and Italy (10-0) before finishing its preliminary round a perfect 3-0 with a 5-2 victory over host, Canada. After topping Italy, 5-1, in the semifinals, the U.S. dispatched Canada, 3-2, in a thrilling championship game for an unprecedented fourth-straight title in the event and tournament-record sixth championship overall.
The team very much needed that all-for-one, one-for-all approach in the championship game, jumping out to a 3-0 lead before Canada came storming back to make it close in the third period, the only period in the tournament the U.S. did not score a goal.
“We didn’t need any more [goals], so I’m going with that,” joked defenseman and team captain Josh Pauls (Green Brook, N.J.), a two-time Paralympic gold medalist who will turn 25 on New Year’s Eve. “It was definitely a big test having to fight through a little adversity in the gold-medal game. I think we’re better off for it.”
Captain Josh Pauls scored the WSHC championship-clinching goal for third time
The 2017 World Sled Hockey Challenge saw Declan Farmer (Tampa, Fla.) lead all skaters in points for the fourth-straight time, as his 13 points (six goals, seven assists), edged teammate Brody Roybal (Northlake, Ill.), who finished with 12 points (six goals, six assists.).
What is it that brings out the continued point production?
“I think it’s just our expectation to win,” said the 20-year-old forward. “That isn’t a knock against any of our competitors, but more of a mindset to keep us focused on the task at hand.”
Points and wins aside, Farmer and Team USA are aware of the talent depth growing around the world.
“We expect it to be tougher than ever to win gold,” Farmer said. “We know we are going to have to get past a lot of good teams, but we are determined to get the job done.”
While Farmer and Roybal made contributions on the scoresheet, as did Team USA’s goaltenders in two-time Paralympic gold medalist Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.) and 2014 Paralympic gold medalist, Jen Lee (San Francisco, Calif.). Team USA’s goalies led the way in the tournament as Lee finished with a tournament-best save percentage (.923) and goals against average (0.67) while Cash ranked second in both (.913 save percentage, 1.78 GAA) while backstopped Team USA in the championship game
Goaltender Steve Cash. Photo Rights: Hockey Canada
The World Sled Hockey Challenge was the first of three international events for Team USA before heading to PyeongChang, South Korea for the Paralympics in March as the two-time defending gold medalists. The team will also travel to Turin, Italy, for a tournament from Jan. 19-28, 2018, and take part in a Border Series versus Canada From 7-11, 2018 in Buffalo, New York, and Port Colborne, Ontario.
Both of those tournaments will include the final Paralympic roster, which is expected to be announced on January 1, 2018.
The U.S. has won the last two Paralympic Winter Games (and three of the last four) to go along with three of the last five world championships. As winners of seven of the last eight major international events, Team USA credits its success through its expectation to win and overall team unity.
“Everybody has a role, and those roles evolve,” Gosselin said. “The skill guys use their skills, and the guys we expected to have energy brought the energy. We saw some of our key contributors in Declan and Brody perform well, but we also saw some other quality performances both on and off the scoresheet in players like Josh Misiewicz and Luke McDermott.
Gosselin acknowledges that a large part of Team USA’s success over the years has been from its consistency in its roster.
“A good portion of this roster was in Sochi and has developed that winning ability,” Gosselin added. “I’ve known many of the guys for quite a while. Some of our veteran players were quite young when I started with the team as an assistant [2011-2015] and they’ve developed themselves as hockey players physically and mentally. Our captain, Josh Pauls, has practically grown up with this team and become a real leader on and offthe ice. It’s nice to see all those years of hard work paying off for him as well as our other veterans.”
But a final roster is looming in the new year, and making the grade as a Paralympian is the chief concern, despite the shining championship from the World Sled Hockey Championships.
“This win was a chance to see what the guys are made of,” said Pauls. “Whether they’ve been with the team five or six years, or just starting out, we’re starting to discover what we’re made of and I think we showed a lot of resiliency in that win. Now we have to build off that as we get closer and closer to PyeongChang.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.