Brody Roybal competes during the semifinals match against Italy at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 15, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
Many of the country’s top sled hockey players are headed to New Jersey this weekend to compete in the USA Hockey Sled Classic, presented by the NHL. For those on the national team, the 11th annual club tournament is yet another reminder that the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 are just around the corner.
Which means that the U.S. sled hockey team is about to embark on its quest for a fourth straight gold medal and fifth overall. The Americans also won a bronze medal in 2006.
The road to Paralympic gold should once again pass through Canada for the U.S. team. The Americans defeated the Canadians, 5-1, to win their fifth world championship in June. The teams split a two-game series last month in St. Louis.
“I think it really prepared us going into the Paralympics,” forward Brody Roybal, already a two-time Paralympian at age 23, said of the world championship win. “We got a good look at all the teams we’re going to be playing against. We have another tournament coming up here in December in Ostrava (Czech Republic) again.
“We’ll be playing some of the same countries, and we’re just focusing on our own game, though. We’re preparing like we would for any tournament, any game and, yeah, we’re just really excited to get after it.”
If they are to win in Beijing, the Americans will have to do so without standout goaltender Steve Cash. The three-time Paralympic gold medalist retired in October after 16 seasons.
“Stevie’s not just a great hockey player,” Jen Lee, his longtime backup goaltender, said at the time of his retirement. “He’s a great leader, but most importantly, he’s a great friend. He’s a brother to all of us.”
Cash is gone, but a close-knit core of teammates remains to skate hard toward the top of that podium in Beijing. Several veteran U.S. players are taking part in this week’s Sled Classic, which features 27 teams, many of them representing a local NHL franchise.
“In hockey, chemistry is so important,” said Jack Wallace, a 2018 Paralympic gold medalist who plays for the NJ Freeze club team. “You got 16 of your closest friends on the ice with you.
“When you’re dealing with adversity and dealing with really hard situations, it's amazing to be able to lean on teammates and use them as your support system, especially if you're not living close to your family or you're on the road or those situations. It’s great to have 16 really close friends in the room, and you can turn to any one of them.”