As the saying goes, there is a first time for everything, and Team USA proved this theory to be true this past week at the USA Hockey Sled Cup in Charlotte, N.C., where there were many firsts. To start off, the USA Hockey Sled Cup is the first international sled hockey tournament hosted by USA Hockey, and it was also the first sled hockey tournament held at the Extreme Ice Center in Charlotte, N.C. The tournament hosted Russia, South Korea, the U.S. Development Sled Hockey Team, and the U.S. National Sled Team. This would be the first time Team USA has ever faced Team Russia, the first tournament of 2013 for Team USA, and my first tournament back since my injury in November.
To start the tournament off, all of the teams were invited to the Charlotte Motor Speedway for an amazing dinner reception, and to the surprise of all of the athletes, this included a few laps around the track! This was definitely a first for most, if not all, of the athletes and staff. Being a NASCAR fan since I was a kid, this was an awesome experience. Growing up, my father and I had season tickets to the Texas Motor Speedway in North Texas, and we went to one or two NASCAR races every year. I’ve always wanted to take a few laps on the track, but never thought I would do a few laps in a 13-passenger van. This was a little scary when we approached the apex of the turns, which are banked at 24 degrees, but the drivers took the safe route and dropped down to the apron of the track. Check out the video below to see some footage and commentary on our time on the track. All-in-all, it was a great night and great way to kick off the tournament.
The next day, Team USA started the tournament with a nice 5-0 win over the U.S. development team, but it was obvious that we still had some things we needed to make consistent to get into the gold-medal game on Saturday night. The good news was that the scoring was spread out, as we got goals from all three forward lines.
The next night, we played Russia for the first time ever, we beat Russia for the first time ever, and like pretty much every other team that has faced Steve Cash and Team USA at one point or another, we shut-out Russia for the first time ever. We really played as a team and dominated most of the game. The consistency we have been working so hard on developing was really starting to show. Before the game, NASCAR driver Joey Logano presented Team USA with a $15,000 check to the USA Hockey Foundation to help the U.S. sled hockey teams train and compete at the highest level possible! This is the third donation Joey Logano has made to USA Hockey since 2009.
On the final day of round robin play, Team USA was matched up against South Korea for the first time since Team USA beat South Korea in the gold-medal game at the 2012 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships last April. And the good news for Team USA… It was more of the same! We dominated the game, controlled the puck in the offensive zone for at least 90-percent of the game, and really set an extremely fast paced tempo with outstanding forechecking by our forwards. We came out on top with a 3-0 win over South Korea, with an unblemished record in the round robin play, and had not given up a single goal thus far.
On the final night of the USA Hockey Sled Cup, Team USA faced South Korea again for the gold medal. The game was a bit chippy and the pace was extremely choppy due to a number of penalties by both teams. Team USA had three back-to-back-to-back penalties in the first period, and luckily with no damage done we ended the period with a 1-0 lead. The second period was more of the same with more penalties and goals. South Korea finally broke our “no goals against” streak with a shot through traffic, but we maintained a 3-1 lead after the second period. South Korea opened the scoring in the third period with a goal on their third 5-3 advantage of the game, but we squashed their momentum less than a minute later with a shorthanded goal by Adam Page. Kevin
McKee put the game away with our fifth goal of the game, and Team USA had their first tournament championship of the New Year!
All in all it was a great week for Team USA, as we continued to develop chemistry and consistency as we move closer and closer to the world championships in April. It feels great to win two international tournaments in a row, but there is still work to be done. Team USA will face Canada in a three-game series in Ottawa, Feb. 14-17. This will be a heated series, as Canada is sure to come out looking to bounce back from their loss to Team USA in the championship game at the World Sledge Challenge last month. Until then, we will continue to train hard, and we look forward to the next stepping stone on the way to defending our world championship!