GANGNEUNG, South Korea—Normally, when you walk into Team USA Sled Hockey’s locker room some people would say that you get a sense of intimidation… from the players, of course, but you always felt like there is someone watching you… and there was. It’s a Mr. Potato Head doll. Yes, you read that right. It’s was all thanks to the Captain of the team, Forward Josh Pauls. Mr. Potato Head has taken a beating over the course of its existence, but still like a potato, the team has all eyes on them as they remain the team to beat.
Pauls, or as he is better known as “Spuds” by his teammates, is a Franklin Lakes, New Jersey native and member of the St. Louis Blues sled team. He will be going for his hat-trick of gold medals after medaling in 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi. Josh explains the reason he is called “Spuds” very simply, stating:
“One day, one of the Assistant coaches on the team went over to my bald head, grabbed it and said, ‘Your smooth, like a potato.’ Since then, the legend was born.”
When Pauls started playing for Team USA, he was the youngest player in their history to make their debut with the team (since then, Brody Roybal has taken that honor at age 15 in Sochi), but Josh is prepared to go on another run, not just for himself but in honor of a former coach,
“You know, I think we’re really pushing to get a gold for coach Sauer who passed away last year. It’s also going for my teammates that haven’t been here before, the guys, there are six or seven new ones who have never had the experience of the Paralympic games so you want them to have that feeling of having a gold medal placed around your neck.”
Captain Pauls was born without both tibia bones, and as a result he needed his legs amputated from the waist down. But that never stopped him as a kid from playing Sled Hockey or sports. In fact, he would tell parents to let their kids try to play sports and not shelter them.
“Obviously there are a lot of big hits happening at the Paralympic level, but we’re skating at 15 to 20 miles per hour. We’re also ramming and hitting each other with sophisticated pieces of metal to stop the process. However at the lower levels, the youth levels, it’s just not as violent. It’s so much fun, especially when you get going with it. And the sport has only grown since I got into it in 2002. To be able to have more players and to build more players for the national pool team, that’s something I want to encourage people to do. And you never know if you won’t try it.” said Pauls.
Trying new things is big for Spuds. In fact the man whose nickname is a food, enjoys a good meal. In fact, that so far is his favorite part of South Korea:
“Oh, the food is definitely awesome. The rice. The noodles, the whole thing… Beef Bulgogi. I’m a big foodie, so anywhere we go I like to try out the food, but the food is the best part.”
Pauls would like there to be more gold in his diet, as he is starving for another chance to get one.
“Gold has always been our goal and we don’t expect anything less from the team.”
The United States Opens their run for gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Games against Japan on Sunday at noon Korea Time.