Though he’s just 19, Declan Farmer has been a big part of the U.S. national sled hockey team since 2012.
He was the second-youngest member of the U.S. team that won gold at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014 and has been one of the program’s best players and most prolific scorers, even though most of his teammates have been much older.
He’s not yet 20, but already he’s helped Team USA to Paralympic gold, the 2015 world title and three championships of the annual World Sled Hockey Challenge.
Now Farmer — who’s in his first year at Princeton after growing up in Tampa — says this is the first year he really doesn’t “feel like the young guy.”
“It’s kind of in the middle, because I’m one of the younger guys on the team but I’ve been with this group of guys for so long and I’ve seen like half the team leave and half the team come since I first joined,” he said.
But that’s one of the things that has him most excited about playing in the next edition of the World Sled Hockey Challenge to be held Dec. 4-10 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Each year, the U.S. sled hockey program gets deeper. That rising talent is lifting the national team, and Farmer can’t wait to see how he and his teammates perform in Canada.
This has been more of a quiet year for the program — no Paralympics, no world championships — so the team hasn’t been on the ice against an opponent for months. Farmer has been with the team through three training camps and tryouts in July, and he loved seeing players on the development team whom he says “could easily push for a spot on the national team.”
Now, almost midway between the 2014 Sochi Games and the 2018 PyeongChang Games, Farmer feels this upcoming tournament is sort of a kickoff to the push for the next Games.
He said the higher level of competition in the program should produce good things.
“The talent there (on the development team) is pushing everyone on the national team to work harder, because no one’s spot is really safe,” he said. “You know, you want to make sure you’re working hard not only to help the team win, but also to make sure that you still have a spot.”
Team USA and host Canada will be joined by Norway and South Korea in the round-robin tournament in Charlottetown.
“We want to set the tone and come out and establish ourselves as one of the best teams in the world,” Farmer said.
Farmer certainly is a big part of that team, and his numbers prove it. He’d rather not talk about his individual accomplishments — he’d prefer to talk about the team as a whole — but Farmer holds the record for most points (13) and is tied for most goals (7) in a single World Sled Hockey Challenge tournament (in January of this year), and is tied for most career points (32) by a U.S. player in the event.
Farmer’s play in January’s World Sled Hockey Challenge helped the United States to its third team title since 2012.
Farmer doesn’t want to rest on those accomplishments. His goal is to continue to improve so Team USA can stay at the top of the sled hockey world. That’s his priority.
To that end, he’s been focusing on strength training since Sochi.
“In Sochi I was one of the younger guys and one of the smaller guys on the team,” he said, “and that’s not a huge deal, but it definitely helps to be bigger and stronger out there, because you’re faster, you can hit the puck harder and you can body people off. …
“I want to make sure I’m at the top of my game for myself and my team. Working out and getting bigger and stronger is one of those ways to do that.”
He knows, too, that every time Tem USA takes the ice, every opponent is pumped up to knock them off.
Says Farmer: “We know every team we go against is going to bring their A game, so we’ve got to be ready to go.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.