Before making his first U.S. National Sled Hockey Team this season, retired Marine Luke McDermott played with the San Antonio Rampage sled hockey team.
ARLINGTON, Va. — Last March, Luke McDermott traveled to Sochi, Russia, for the Paralympic Winter Games.
Then a member of the U.S. developmental sled hockey team, McDermott watched as the U.S. national team beat the hosts, Russia, to claim a 1-0 win in the gold-medal game.
That experience gave McDermott the extra bit of motivation needed to boost his game to the elite level. He was recently named to the 2014-15 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, which took part in its first training camp at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex from Oct. 2-5.
“Watching them play in the Paralympics really inspired me,” McDermott, a forward from Fort Worth, Texas, said. “I really wanted to be on this team and get to work with these guys. When I found out I was on the team I was pumped.”
McDermott was one of six newcomers who debuted with the team at the training camp. The others were goaltender Kyle Huckaby, defensemen Sam Mumper and Billy Hanning, and forwards Chris Douglas and Josh Misiewicz.
Just four years ago, McDermott never could have imagined he’d be playing sled hockey at this level. In fact, he never could have imagined he’d be playing sled hockey, period.
McDermott wasn’t introduced to the sport until he began rehabilitating a military injury sustained on June 9, 2010 in Afghanistan.
While McDermott was on security patrol, an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle. McDermott lost the use of his legs and had to suddenly learn how to adjust to a new life. At the advice of his personal trainer, it was suggested McDermott take up the sport of sled hockey, even though he’d had no prior experience on the ice in any capacity. Simple advice quickly turned into passion, with McDermott deciding to dedicate his days to bettering himself at his new favorite sport.
“It’s a ton of work,” McDermott, a retired Marine corporal, said. “I train every single day and do something, whether it’s with weights on the ice or off the ice. You have to do something every single day. Otherwise, you won’t make it at this level. It takes a ton of work but it’s so worth it.”
Misiewicz, like McDermott, found sled hockey after serving in the Marines. Their backgrounds in the sport took different paths, though.
Growing up in La Grange, Illinois, Misiewicz was a fan of able-bodied ice hockey and played it from childhood through early adulthood. Then in July of 2011, Misiewicz, a Marine lance corporal, was injured due to an IED while on foot patrol and lost his legs.
“My first thought was, ‘I’ll never play hockey again,’” Misiewicz said. “Then I found out about sled hockey. Ever since, it’s been awesome to be back on the ice playing the sport I love.”
Misiewicz, who was fitted for prosthetics at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, began playing for the USA Warriors, a sled hockey team consisting of military veterans in the nearby city of Rockville, Maryland. The USA Warriors are one of many club sled hockey teams that participate against each other across the country.
Misiewicz, like McDermott, played on the U.S. developmental team before earning the nod to represent his country on this year’s national team.
“To be playing at this level is what I wanted to do,” Misiewicz said. “Last year I was on the developmental team and I wanted to step my game up to the next level.
The U.S. national team and Misiewicz’s former squad, the USA Warriors, held a scrimmage Saturday night, with the teams mixing up the rosters to help promote the sport to a wider audience. Though it was an exhibition-style event, competition was still present on the ice given the natural rivalries built up among one another during club play.
For Misiewicz, being able to go from continuing the sport he loves to representing his country has served as a huge reminder of his love for the country.
“We all join the military for different reasons, and now we have this option to represent our country by working our (butt) off and earning it,” he said. “It’s a great honor.”
McDermott said that he wanted to continue serving in the U.S. military, but was unable to in the capacity he preferred due to his injury. Though that might have been taken away, being able to play sled hockey and compete at a high level has brought a similar feel for him. Honored to serve his country, McDermott now feels blessed to represent it in the arena of sports.
“I went 23 years of my life without living with an injury like this,” McDermott said. “It really changes things. You have to learn to live a different way. I was looking for something to do that was meaningful, that I would look forward to doing every single day. Then I started hockey. When I got on the ice for practice and for games, I loved it and knew this was something I wanted to do for many years.”