By Joe Yerdon | April 24, 2015, 1:50 p.m. (ET)
Steve Cash

BUFFALO, N.Y. – When it comes to representing the United States in sled hockey, goalie Steve Cash might be the man considered to be the face of the team.

For the past nine years, Cash has represented the United States. He’s won gold medals at the 2014 and 2010 Paralympic Winter Games and a bronze medal in 2006. In 10 games in Paralympic play, he’s allowed just two goals.

As the United States heads into its opening game against Russia on Sunday in the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships in Buffalo, Cash is having the best season of his career. He’s 7-1-0-0 this season with a .946 save percentage and has allowed as many goals as he has shutouts with four. For Cash, however, playing the world championships in his home country for the first time since 2008 has special appeal.

“It’s awesome,” Cash said. “A lot of the guys, including myself, are going to have family and friends in the stands, and when you have the support of your family, not only them but also people that may not have heard about sled hockey or are fans of the sport in general, you have them there cheering you on, it makes the experience that much better.”

Cash has represented the United States at the world championships four times already. He’s won gold twice, in 2009 and 2012, took home silver in 2013 and won bronze in 2008. That bronze medal in 2008 on home ice in Massachusetts left some disappointment that Cash and the rest of the team wants to make up for in Buffalo.

“We got a bronze, but even then it was a great experience, and I like having tournaments — whether it be world championships, exhibition series or camps — I like having them on home soil so we can get the exposure out there and possibly get new fans as well as sled hockey players,” Cash said.

Sled hockey has gotten more attention in recent years much in part due to NBC. The network carried the gold-medal game between Team USA and Russia at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, and all U.S. games at the 2015 world championships will be carried on NBC Sports Network.

“Ten years ago when I started on the team, we went to Torino in 2006 for the Paralympics,” Cash said. “My family was asking, ‘How can we keep up with the games?’ and at that point there was really nothing. You had a couple games streamed online here and there, but for the most part people back home weren’t able to watch it. You go from that to it being aired on national television in primetime on a Saturday, it’s amazing.

“Just to see where the sport has come since 10 years ago, it’s exciting to see where it’s going to go 10 years from now. And not only that, getting that exposure each year that it’s on TV it’s, at least in the media, you can see an exponential growth in the sport from one season to the next. Having NBC involved last year, I know that whether it be this year or next year, we’ll see a tremendous growth even since then. It’s awesome to see and I know that it’s only going to make the sport better, not just within the United States, but also around the world.”

Getting attention isn’t anything new for Cash. In 2010, he received the ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability, and he’s at the forefront of any press conference about the U.S. team. One thing he wasn’t prepared for, however, was having his face on a billboard back home near St. Louis.

“I had a worker in the business department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where I attend, and she emailed me and asked if she could use my picture for one of their campaigns they’re doing,” Cash said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, sure, go ahead.’ And I figured it was maybe something they put in the magazine or a poster on campus, and I get a text from my dad saying, ‘Nice billboard.’”

Cash said he had no idea what his dad was talking about but soon learned of the billboard just down the street from where he lives.

“For me, it’s awesome not only to have homage paid to me but also for the sport,” he said. “I don’t view it as something for myself, I view it as something for the sled hockey community as well as the community in general. Since sled hockey isn’t an NCAA sport or a school-sanctioned sport, you kind of feel like you fall by the wayside, the sport falls by the wayside, so having the university recognize me in that way it means that much more.”

Although Cash is 25 years old, he’s one of the more senior members of the team. When you’ve played for the team for nine years, those things will happen, but Cash has his mind on hockey as well as what lies ahead of him off the ice as he graduates from college in December.

“I know in the future I may have some interest in coaching the team,” Cash said. “I’ve done development camps every summer since 2007, so I have a little bit of experience coaching. For me, it’s just the team atmosphere that I really enjoy. I know a lot of the guys that I’ve talked to that retired in the past like Andy Yohe and Taylor Lipsett, they always come back to me and say that they miss it. I’ll definitely find a way to stay involved in the sport, whether that be five years from now or 15 years down the road, we’ll see, but I have an interest in sticking to sled hockey one way or another.”

Joe Yerdon is a sportswriter located in Buffalo, New York. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.