The U.S. sled hockey team huddles up before their semifinal match against Team China at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 11, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING – Eleven of the 17 members of the U.S. sled hockey team have been here before, competing at a Paralympic Winter Games. And those 11 players have never left the Games as anything but gold medalists.
Winning is all they know, and it’s what they’ve been training for these past four years.
So when the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 wrap up on Sunday, those 11 guys and their six rookie teammates fully expect to be heading home with Paralympic gold medals around their necks.
To make that happen they’ll have to get past archrival Canada in the gold-medal contest at the National Indoor Stadium. Opening faceoff is set for just after 11 p.m. ET on Saturday.
“We are ready to go,” Team USA’s Brody Roybal said.
As the three-time defending Paralympic gold medalists and two-time defending world champs, the Americans come into the final as favorites.
Team captain Josh Pauls, a three-time Paralympic champion and the lone holdover from the Vancouver 2010 squad, knows not to get complacent as the U.S. goes for a record-extending fourth consecutive and fifth overall title.
The U.S. has faced Japan, Russia and Canada in the past three Paralympic gold-medal games, and the last two were decided by one goal.
“I’ve learned anything can happen,” Pauls said of the past gold-medal games. “They’ve all been very unique and different, but I’ve learned the nerves don’t go away. You definitely still get the butterflies in your stomach — both excited and anxious to play — as it’s the most intense hockey I’ve ever played.”
The U.S. remains the only undefeated team left in the tournament in Beijing, where it has outscored its opponents, 25-1, including an 11-0 shelling of China in the semifinal and a 5-0 win over Canada in the preliminary round. However, the U.S. comes into the championship having played just three games so far in Beijing. A third preliminary round game was wiped out after RPC athletes were denied participation by the International Paralympic Committee.
The Americans have made the most of their opportunities.
Playing in his third Paralympics at just 24, Declan Farmer is leading all scorers at the tournament with 15 points, including 10 assists. Within the past week the Tampa, Florida, native has broken the records for most career Paralympic points and assists by a U.S. player. Yet when asked about his feats he remains humble, crediting his entire team.