Team USA

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Getting ready to hit the ice

Talking it over

The first weekend in September officially kicked off the 2013-14 USA sled hockey season. The team gathered in Buffalo, N.Y. for the first training camp of the year. Usually, the first training camp is about getting to know new guys on the team, working on the basics and developing chemistry between each line. Team USA seems to be far past that!

With the group of guys in the locker room essentially the same as last year — except for two key additions—the camaraderie and unity within the locker room is unlike any team I have ever been a part of. One of the additions is Andy Yohe, captain of the 2010 U.S. team that won the gold medal in Vancouver, who is coming back from a three-year hiatus after starting a family. The other addition is 15-year-old Brody Roybal, who many players in the sled hockey community have watched grow up since he started playing at 8 years old. Although these guys are “new,” they really aren’t. Andy mixes right back in just like he did in 2010 when he lead Team USA to gold, and Brody, who has been on the U.S. National Development Sled Hockey Team the past few years, has fit in seamlessly and hasn’t missed a beat with the step up in talent and speed of the game at the men’s national team level. With 16 other players who have already played together for at least a year, the feeling in the locker room is unsurpassed. We are no longer just teammates, but brothers. And we are all committed to training, working out and performing for each other, with a goal in mind: a gold medal. Leading us on the Road to Sochi will be our three captains, who the staff named during the last practice of the weekend. Again, Andy Yohe will serve as captain, and will lead Team USA into Sochi, with the assistance of the alternate captains, Josh Sweeney and Taylor Chace. They will no doubt have the team prepared and ready to go, both mentally and physically, when we head to Sochi!

On many of the previous national sled hockey teams I have been a part of, the season has been a slow progression of learning and mastering basic skills as a player and a team, ultimately trying to put everything together into complex systems, such as power-plays and set plays. There have been seasons where the power-play was not even discussed until the final training camp of the season, right before the world championships. The talent level and hockey IQ of the team USA Hockey has chosen to play at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, is so advanced, that we were already working on power-play systems last week… the first training camp of the year! This in no way implies that the season will be a cakewalk or we feel like it will be a stroll into the gold medal game in Sochi, but it does mean that we can spend most of the season mastering complex hockey systems, and perfecting our game as a team, instead of working of the very basic aspects of the game. If everyone makes the most of each and every training session, and comes to each and every camp better than they were at the last camp, then I would say we have our destiny in our owns hands. The season is still young, but the potential is great, and I cannot wait to see where this team is headed!

Along with working on individual skills and basic fundamentals as a team, the first camp is also about developing chemistry with your line mates. The way many of the lines were playing, I think the chemistry is already there. Each line was flying up and down the ice, making passes based on instincts, knowing where their line mate would be. Making passes without looking, making plays that just seemed so natural. This is something that our coaches have preached for us for years now. They have been urging us to learn the game so that the basic things like passing become instinct. Something you don’t have to think about. You see this all the time in the NHL, where it seems like every player just knows where his line mate is or where he is going. These are some of the tendencies I witnessed last weekend… at the first training camp of the year! So then is the question this season not about building chemistry, but is it more about alchemy? Taking basic building blocks are turning them into gold! I have a good feeling that this is the path we are going down. As I said before, the building blocks are there, so the rest is in our hands now. Will we become good players who have developed some chemistry, or will we become alchemists who turn the basic building blocks of a team into gold?