GANGNEUNG, South Korea – For a trio of former U.S. Marines, the road to PyeongChang couldn’t be more different.
Yet, a single moment energized Travis Dodson (Deming, N.M.), Luke McDermott (Westerlo, N.Y.) and Josh Misiewicz (La Grange, Ill.) as each of them set out to make the 2018 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team.
Their roads to South Korea simultaneously began alongside 10 of their current teammates, when the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team captured an unprecedented second straight gold in Sochi, Russia.
Luke McDermott is ready for his Paralympic debut in PyeongChang
For Dodson, who witnessed the moment first-hand in Sochi while competing for Team USA in Paralympic biathlon and cross-country skiing, there was an instant attraction to the speed and physicality of sled hockey.
“I was just really motivated and impressed by the guys on the 2014 team,” said Dodson, one of 74 U.S. Paralympians that participated in the 2014 Sochi Games. “I was drawn to sled hockey watching it live, and seeing the pace of the game made me immediately want to get involved.”
Dodson started his career in sled hockey within a year after competing in Sochi, thanks in part to a friend that was volunteering with the RIC Blackhawks sled hockey team. Just this last November, Dodson and the RIC Blackhawks were crowned champions at the 2017 USA Hockey Sled Classic, presented by the NHL. His experience in cross-country skiing paid dividends as he progressed from the Development Team to the National Team by December 2017.
“There’s pretty similar motion between skiing and sled hockey,” claimed Dodson. “I think being involved in that sport already gave me a lot of strength and muscle development needed to be fast on the ice. For me, the last three years have been about picking up the skill and IQ of the sport.”
Like Dodson, McDermott got to witness the historic moment in Sochi in person after traveling to Russia as a spectator and member of the U.S. Development Sled Hockey Team. It was seeing the gold medals being placed around the necks of Team USA that sparked him to take his game to another level.
“Sled hockey was a sport I played, but I wasn’t nearly at their level yet,” claimed McDermott, who won the 2014 USA Hockey Sled Classic Tier I championship with the San Antonio Rampage that includes 2014 gold medalists Jen Lee and Rico Roman. “Seeing them win gold was a huge motivating factor to say to myself ‘Hey, I have a chance to compete at the highest level’ and I wanted to be a part on this team in 2018.”
Since Sochi, McDermott has helped the National Team win seven of eight international tournaments, including the 2015 IPC Sled Hockey World Championship in Buffalo, New York. With other tournament wins including four World Sled Hockey Challenges, the 2016 IPC Pan-Pacific Championship and 2018 Turin Para Ice Hockey International Tournament, now his focus is centered on living the golden moment that inspired him four years ago.
“It would be an unbelievable feat to win gold for the third straight Paralympics and a huge honor to be a member of the group that did it. It’s great to be a part of this team now after witnessing them win gold in 2014.”
Knowledge and love for the game has been instilled for years in Misiewicz, who started playing hockey at a young age before competing at the NCAA Division III level at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota.
After being injured by an I.E.D. while serving the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, Misiewicz feared his hockey career was over. It wasn’t until a friend introduced him to the USA Warriors Sled Hockey Team in 2011 that Misiewicz realized he could continue to play the game he loved. It was the Sochi team, however, that motivated him to compete at the highest level.
“Seeing the 2014 team changed my game mode from house-league to competitive again,” said Misiewicz, who skated for the USA Warriors from 2011-2014. “Watching Team USA on TV alongside large groups of people really motivated me. I saw how skilled they were, and I just wanted to be part of that. It was something to strive for.”
Like McDermott, Misiewicz made his National Team debut just a year after Sochi. That season, he collected seven points (3-4) while helping Team USA win the 2015 world championship on home ice in Buffalo. Now, he couldn’t be more honored to represent Team USA on the Paralympic Stage.
“One of the first things I thought about when I got injured is that I’ll never play hockey again,” said Misiewicz, who led all skaters with 10 assists at last month’s Para Ice Hockey International Tournament. “So being able to not only continue playing hockey, but being able to play at the Paralympic level, it’s the best thing ever.”
The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team opens play at the 2018 Paralympic Games against Japan on Sunday (March 11) at 12 p.m. local time, making it a 10 p.m. puck drop on Saturday (March 10) back in the United States. The contest will be televised live on NBCSN, in addition to being streamed live on NBCOlympics.com.
|Sun., March 11||Japan
|W, 10-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Mon., March 12||Czech Republic
|W, 10-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Tues., March 13||Korea
|W, 8-0||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Thurs., March 15||Italy
|W, 10-1||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Sun., March 18||Canada
|W, 2-1 (OT)||Gangneung Hockey Centre|