There’s a feeling that people get when they enter a hockey arena for the first time in a long time or ever for that matter. That feeling, when you sit in the stands looking around the arena…It’s electric, but it’s also cold from the temperature and hot with intensity.
It was bright lights in an arena that just days ago saw the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team take the gold in an amazing finish against team Canada. You could still feel the drama from that experience. Something special starting to happen. The Zamboni laid down a fresh sheet of ice as waiting in the wings of the Gangeung Ice Hockey arena were the pounding hearts of the 2018 Paralympic USA Sled Hockey team. They couldn’t wait to feel the ice with their sticks they carried in each hand. As fate would have it, the stadium’s organ was played at full blast as it invited the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi back-to-back Gold Medal Paralympians return to ice for their second full practice since they landed in Korea. Team USA is looking for redemption against team Canada and the rest of the field after losing to their neighbors to the North at the World Sled Hockey Championships earlier this year.
Steve Cash, is returning for his 13th season wearing the red, white and blue entered the net for the United States of America. His padless frame swaying from side to side in the goal, taking shots from his teammates and his brethren whizzed around the arena as fast as they’re sleds could take them.
The team is led this season by New Jersey native and current St. Louis Blues Sled Hockey Forward Josh “Spuds” Pauls, the team captain. This is his third Paralympic games, and after winning gold in Vancouver and Sochi, the thirst for first remains supreme,
“A Gold medal has always been our goal and we don’t expect anything less from our team.” said Pauls before Wednesday’s practice confidentially.
However, it takes more than words to be the best in this sport that is an intricate balance between hockey and sleds, like a ballet on ice intersected with the harshness of a player slamming it’s opponents into the boards at full speed.
“Obviously there are a lot of big hits going on at the Olympic level, because we’re skating at 15 to 20 or 25 miles per hour. And we’re crashing into each other to stop the progress,” said Pauls.
For the U.S. Sled Hockey team, it’s about practice and for Forward Brody Roybal, whose PyeongChang games will be his second go around, he came here with a purpose.
“We didn’t come here not to play in the gold medal game,” said Roybal. He continued, “That’s all we are here to do. We’re ready to play and we hope that we can bring back another gold medal.”
The U.S. Sled Hockey team opens their preliminary round robin against Japan, Czech Republic and host Korea. Their first match will be on March 11th at noon Korea Time (March 10 at 10 p.m. EST).