Steve Cash is the starting goalie for the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. I caught up with him after he had his teeth cleaned at the athlete village, one of the many services offered to athletes. Cash has yet to have a goal scored on him in the Paralympic Winter Games and Team USA is 2-0 in pool play.
When did you first decide that you wanted to be a goalie?
I actually started out playing roller hockey when I was about ten years old. My brothers all played roller hockey and my older brother James had been a goalie. So I just figured I'd follow in his footsteps and try it out, and I've loved it ever since.
Did you always play goalie in sled hockey?
Yeah. I already had the experience. I hopped in a sled one of the weekends after one of the sled hockey coaches asked me to try it out and six months later I made the U.S. team.
What does it take to be a good sled hockey goalie?
A lot of it is positioning and just being able to read the play, because your arms are also your legs. Not only are you skating and moving across the crease with your arms, you're also stopping the puck with them.
A lot of it has to do with cutting down the angle, making sure of your position, but even more so, just your reaction time.
Some goalies in the NHL will play different games off the ice, like ping pong, to work on their reflexes and reaction time. Do you do anything like that?
I've found out that using tennis balls is really affective. I might bounce it against the garage, maybe do a little juggling. I've found that really helps out with my hand eye coordination.
How many balls can you juggle at the same time?
Just three, just three (with a laugh). I'm still not even good at that. I'm still trying to get some practice in.
During the game what are you focusing on?
The last two games I haven't had many shots, so I've just made sure that I keep focused on what's going on at the other end; that I'm reading plays and trying to stay awake. But during other games when I'm busy I try to stay in the zone. The more shots I get I feel like the better I play. The big key is just keeping your head in it, because with goaltending a lot of it is mindset. As long as I have the right mindset and am focused on what is going on, then I'm good to go.
Do you use any mental cues, or visual cues to put you in that mindset?
Before the games I like to become at peace with myself. I close my eyes and I don't hear anything and I try to focus on, maybe, some saves that I'll do in the game. Try to run through some plays and try to get a feel for what's to come. Maybe I'll know another team's tendencies so I'll make a visual and try to go from there.
Would you rather face more or less shots in a game?
Honestly I would rather face more. Obviously less shots is better because it's less of a chance of letting goals in. But the way I see it is I'm there to stop the shots, and I'm not letting anything by. If I get ten shots I'm going to stop all ten of those and if I get 50 shots I'll stop all 50 of those. So I just come in the games focused and ready and if I get more shots I'm happy because I'm getting the action.
With a last name like Cash, what are some of the nicknames you've been given?
The biggest one is "Cash Money". Actually a lot of people when I first started called me "Cha-Ching." That was probably one of the, I guess, unusual ones. Cash Money would be the regular one.
In 2009 you were named USOC Paralympic SportsMan of the Year. How did that feel?
It was awesome. The team was in Japan, and we had just gotten named the USOC Paralympic Team of the Year, then the coach approached me and told me that I got the individual award. It was a big shock. Being Team of the Year is great, and any one of those guys on the team would deserve my award as well. It's awesome that I was picked out of the bunch. It's a great honor, and I'd like to thank my team that's been out there supporting me all the way. I'm just happy that I was chosen.
How closely are you working with and communicating with your defense during the game?
During practice we work on stuff like that, maybe some deflections and break outs. Say the puck is dumped in, my defense will come back and pick up the puck and make sure everyone's in the right position. I'll make sure I communicate with my defense who is coming on. Maybe they have one coming hard or a couple coming easy. I'll let them know what's behind them because obviously they're focused on the puck and their back is to the play.
Are you constantly talking throughout the game?
I'm probably one of the quieter ones, but I make sure that my defense knows where to be. I don't want to tell them how to do their job, because that's not what I'm there for. I'm there to help them out whenever they need it. I try to make sure that I'm saying the right things at the right times.
Do you have any rituals?
I would say it's not so much rituals as it is superstitions, I guess. I've got minor OCD just because I'm a goalie. I hate odd numbers. If take one water out of the fridge, I gotta take another out of the fridge. I can't just have one. I think that's a big thing before games, is I just have even numbers around me and make sure everything is in line and in the order I want to be.
So were you hoping yesterday that you guys would score another goal to put you at four instead of three?
Well stuff like that, it's during the game, so I guess you could say I'm not really focused on it. Afterwards, yes. It's good that we got five and three to make eight all together. Try to look at it in a positive way. I usually try to use my superstitions to my advantage.
When you first stepped out on the ice for your first game of the Vancouver Parlaympic Winter Games, what did that feel like?
Well I was in Torino as well, but I was a backup then, so I didn't really know what it was like to start a game and get out in front of all the fans. It was great. The place was electric and whether the fans are rooting for us or not, it was still loud. I like getting out there and hearing the roar of the fans.
How different does it feel being the starter in these Games as opposed to being a backup in Torino?
It definitely is a different mindset. In Torino I still had the mindset that maybe I might play. The starter could get hurt, I'd get some playing time. It didn't seem like there was much pressure on me.
Coming into these Games it feels like I kinda have the team on my back and they're relying on me. I have to make sure that I'm focused and ready before every game. So coming into this tournament it's a little more serious and I'm getting down to business more.
I heard that you guys went out on a few team excursions before the Games began. What was the goal of those excursions and what were some of the highlights?
One of the excursions that we took was the fairy to Vancouver Island. I think stuff like that's great because it gives us time to get loose, and maybe we're not thinking about the games as much. Being here a few days before the Games start is good because we can just sit back, relax, we're not on the ice. We can just hang out.
Highlights, I would say just everyone around having a good time. The guys on the team like to scope out the females. I think when we see pretty girls or something we might whistle or whatever. I think stuff like that is real funny, when you keep it light, and just keep joking.
What do you guys do in your free time between games?
We like to go out and have some fun. We might shoot some pool or maybe play some video games because they have "Buck Hunter" down there (in the game room), which is awesome. For me it all depends on what I'm in the mood for. If I want to take a nap I'll lie down and take a nap. I'm not going to go out and force myself to have fun. Being a young team the guys like to go out, socialize and try new things and have fun.
Your teammate Alexi Salamone was telling me a little earlier that you can sleep like none other. Is that true?
Yeah, I'm probably one of the worst morning people you'll ever meet. Because when I wake up I could fall right back to sleep and stay asleep for another three or four hours. When I fall asleep I'm pretty much in hibernation mode and there's nothing that can wake me up, unless it's like a slap in the face.
Have your parents enjoyed the experience so far?
Yeah, they're loving it. It was really hard for them to get up the money to come, but luckily my grandparents and the Proctor and Gamble group was able to support them. So they're having a blast and making sure that they get the best out of it, just like they did in Torino.
How different are the Paralympic Games from World Championships or any of the other major tournaments?
It's a totally different level. Being World Champions is great, but it's nothing compared to what we're doing here. I mean just winning one game, a prelim game, is more important than winning World Championships. I think here it's a lot more pressure but I think it's pressure in a good way. Guys are getting really amped for games and they're getting prepared and they're focused.
What are you going to do to remain prepared and ready for the rest of the tournament?
Well, as we mentioned before, I really like to sleep, so I'm just making sure that I get enough sleep in and that whenever I need sleep or proper nutrition, food, I make sure I get it. I'm not horsing around when I don't need to be, and I'm making sure I'm doing the right things at the right time.