Team USA preps for Paralympics at Japan tournament
Following its selection in December, the 2010 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team will see its first action this week at the Japan Para Ice Sledge Hockey Championships in Nagano City, Japan.
The final 15-man U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team roster represents a trimmed-down version of the 2009-10 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team that captured the 2009 World Sledge Hockey Challenge last November in Charlottetown, P.E.I. That team also faced Canada and Japan in several exhibition games last fall, posting a 6-2-1-2 overall record.
With the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C., on the horizon (March 13-20), however, the U.S. will use this week's tournament as its final opportunity to test its Paralympic athletes with international competition.
"We had some tough cuts to make because those guys played an important role in getting us where we are today," said head coach Ray Maluta about the three players - Mike Hallman, Lonnie Hannah, and Kip St. Germaine - who missed out on cracking the final Paralympic Sled Hockey Team roster. "But the guys here this week will look at this tournament as a chance to improve for Vancouver."
Team USA will play five games this week against the Czech Republic, Japan and Norway. With only a team camp in Rochester remaining between this week's tournament and the Paralympic Winter Games, the United States' performance in Nagano City will play an important role as it looks to capture its second-ever Paralympic gold medal.
"The reality is that we have 10 games left in the season," said Maluta. "Every game is important. We'll probably play all of these teams in Vancouver, so it's important that we establish a solid base of play and build on it."
While taking first place at this week's Japan Para Ice Sledge Hockey Championships would mark Team USA's third-straight International Paralympic Committee-sanctioned title dating back to last year's 2009 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship, Maluta and his staff are focused on the details they believe will lead to a golden March.
"From a coach's standpoint, the ultimate goal is to achieve victory," he concluded. "But we're mainly looking for execution here. We want to see the plays we've worked on executed cleanly, passes that are tape-to-tape and a good work ethic. If we do all the little things, the result will be a win."