Gooley is in his first season as a defenseman on the U.S. national sled hockey team.
Colin Gooley and Alex Tuch grew up next door to each other in Baldwinsville, New York.
On the surface, it seemed like the two had little in common. But once you scratched the surface, their love of sports created a bond that has helped elevate each one to a high level.
Gooley, 25, is in his first season as a defenseman on the U.S. national sled hockey team, which is looking to reclaim the title at the Para Sled Hockey World Championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic, beginning this weekend. Team USA has won three of the past five world championships, losing only in 2013 and 2017 to rival Canada. The two sled hockey powers meet to open the tournament Saturday.
Tuch, 22, meanwhile, just finished his second full NHL season with the Vegas Golden Knights, who lost a dramatic Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals in the Stanley Cup playoffs to the San Jose Sharks 5-4 in overtime Tuesday. The rugged right wing was a first-round draft choice of the Minnesota Wild out of Boston College, then traded to the expansion Golden Knights after making his NHL debut at the end of the 2016-17 season.
“Al lived the game of hockey, and at the time, I wasn’t really a big hockey guy until I began playing sled hockey when I was a senior in high school,” Gooley said. “His passion for the game rubbed off on me though when we were playing hockey on his backyard ice rink or playing street hockey on Corlear Drive in Baldwinsville. You couldn’t ask for better memories and a better street to have lived on with Al and the street gang playing late into the night hours on that backyard pond, or even running around playing manhunt, baseball or basketball.”
Gooley had his left leg amputated below the knee when he was 7 years old after being diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, osteosarcoma. The family moved next door to the Tuchs when Gooley was in the sixth grade.
“Colin and I instantly became friends,” Tuch said.
Tuch said he would often watch as Gooley came up with designs to put on his prosthetic leg. But he also saw how Gooley didn’t limit himself.
“I saw how he took that in stride. He didn’t let that define him,” Tuch said.
Gooley also learned from Tuch.
“I think the biggest thing would be that there is more to life than just ‘playing’ hockey,” Gooley said. “What it means to be a hockey player isn’t always just what you do on the ice. Al is involved with so many different organizations, fundraisers, coaching clinics and he is just a good person all-around.
“When we had camp in Vegas, he came over on an off day after a fundraising event and took our team on a tour of their locker room and all that. I think the hockey culture is unique, and his personality fits in well to being a hockey player. Al is a true example of this aspect of the game of hockey, giving back. This is something I have always tried to remember as I began to coach and help the game of sled hockey grow, something I think is important for the game and to help it expand even more.”
Tuch often helped Gooley get extra ice time and would work on improving his hockey skills. Tuch said Gooley had “natural ability” and “good hands,” likely due to playing lacrosse.
“He came in and worked as hard, if not harder than me, every day in the summertime when I was working on my own drills,” Tuch said.
Now, Gooley is hoping to add a world championship in his first season with the national team.
“The pace of the game compared to what I have been used to has been one of the biggest changes, something I am starting to feel much more comfortable with now at this point of the season,” Gooley said. “It has been an exciting experience to play with many of the players I used to look up to as I began playing hockey, and now they’re my teammates, which is a great feeling looking back on where I started.”
The U.S. is the defending Paralympic champion and recently split a warm-up series with Canada. After Saturday’s opener against the neighbor to the north, the Americans will face South Korea on Sunday and Norway on Tuesday to complete Group A play. In a new tournament format, the top two teams from Group A receive a bye and will play in the semifinals.
“Having played in my first international tournament at the Para Hockey Cup, I am feeling really confident going into worlds,” Gooley said. “I think my expectations fit in with ours as a team, to bring home the gold and to work as hard as we can to make sure that happens as a team.”