The 2017-18 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team will have a last-chance opportunity to scout perhaps its biggest competition ahead of the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games when it faces rival Canada in a home-and-home Border Series from Feb. 7-11 in Buffalo, New York, and Port Colborne, Ontario.
Team USA enters the two-game series undefeated thus far this season, having won all 10 of its international contests while allowing just five goals in the process. Of those five goals, four came at the hands of their border foes at December’s World Sled Hockey Challenge, continuing to make the battle for North American supremacy one of the greatest rivalries in Paralympic sport today.
“I would compare the rivalry to the same kind of atmosphere as any bigger rivalry in other sports like Yankees-Red Sox or Lakers-Celtics,” said first-time Paralympian and New York state native, Luke McDermott. “Both teams have been very good for a while. In the last four-plus years, U.S. and Canada have been at the top of the sport, and every time we meet up it’s a big game.”
The U.S. has three Paralympic gold medals to its name (2014, 2010, 2002) while Canada holds just one (2006). But Canada’s up one when it comes to world championship titles with four compared to three for the Americans, including the most recent title in 2017 when they beat the U.S. in the final. That victory in Gangneung, South Korea, last April snapped Team USA’s streak of international tournament championships at six-straight.
Surprisingly, the two have never faced off in a Paralympic gold-medal match, although every game between the teams resembles that caliber of hype.“Every game against Canada feels like a championship game, so you know they’re going to be physical, hard-nosed grinding hockey games,” said first-time Paralympian Josh Misiewicz, who was named the U.S. Player of the Game in the championship game of last month’s 2018 Turin Para Ice Hockey International Tournament.
Luke McDermott at the 2018 Turin Tournament. Photo Credit Marco Romero
“We’ve got to go in like it’s the Paralympic Games. They’re a great team, so we’ve just got to play our game and show them what we got. We want to go in confident and win these games big. Getting two wins would be a huge confidence booster going into the Paralympics."
Misiewicz claims the determining factor for the U.S. in the series will be speed; the Americans must rely on their quick skating to open up the ice early and put pucks in the net.
The 29-year-old Chicago native cracked his first Paralympic team this year since being introduced to sled hockey in 2011 after he returned from serving in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, where he was injured by an improvised explosive device while on patrol.
Four years ago, Misiewicz was on the U.S. Development Sled Hockey Team Team, watching the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games with his buddies in a restaurant. Now, he’s skating alongside the dynamic duo of Declan Farmer and Brody Roybal, looking to his younger teammates for advice on how to increase his speed ahead of the Paralympics.
Josh Misiewicz at the 2018 Turin Tournament. Photo Credit Marco Romero
“Declan Farmer and Brody Roybal are unbelievable on the ice, it’s almost like they float out there,” Misiewicz said. “They’re very smart kids for how young they are.”
Although 10 years older than his mentors, Misiewicz is having a breakout season, having led all skaters at last month’s Para Ice Hockey International Tournament in Torino with 10 assists and ranking second overall behind Roybal with 16 points.
McDermott’s journey nearly mirrors that of Misiewicz. He was introduced to sled hockey in 2010 by his physical therapist after being injured by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Afghanistan that same year.
With his hometown just over a three-hour drive from Buffalo, McDermott’s expecting several of his family members and friends present to watch the Border Series this week. Still in search of his first goal this season, he’s tallied seven helpers and has been keen on playing clean.
“As of late, the thing that’s put us into trouble with Canada most is penalties and giving them power plays,” he said. “I believe the only times Canada scored against us at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge in two games was when they were on a power play."
Whatever the Border Series result may be, though, McDermott’s already confirmed he’ll be making his Paralympic debut next month, four years after attending the sled hockey tournament in Sochi as a spectator.
“When Team USA put those gold medals on down on the ice in Sochi, I said, ‘I want that. I want to be down there. To now have the chance to do that next month in PyeongChang is hard to describe,’” McDermott said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
The month of February is recognized by the NHL as Hockey Is For Everyone Month, which reaffirms that the official policy of the sport is one of inclusion on the ice, in the locker rooms and in the stands. Around the hockey community, leagues and teams will celebrate the game's diversity and commitment to respect for all.