Without a doubt, the worst place to be, as an athlete and a teammate, is sitting at home while the rest of the team is off competing. Unfortunately, that is exactly what I am doing due to a shoulder injury sustained in a club hockey tournament a few weeks ago. While I do feel as though I have let my teammates down in a sense, I know that resting and rehabbing is much more important, long term, than trying to rush back into competition and not being 100%. With that said, the team arrived in Calgary, Alberta for the first tournament of the year and was looking to handle business as usual. Calgary played host to the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge, where Canada, Japan, Norway, and the U.S. competed for the title, which was being defended by Team Canada.

While it is definitely frustrating not being able to play, I had a good time watching the team play live online at FASTHockey.com. After each game I talked with a number of different players to discuss what I saw, what the team did well, and what adjustments needed to be made. This certainly helped minimize the agony of not being there, and it gave me a little sense of feeling like I was contributing, even if it was just being the eye in the sky. 

The tournament started off with Team USA playing Team Norway, and resulted in a hard fought 3-1 win for Team USA. It was a great start, and allowed the team to build some chemistry and confidence heading further into the week-long competition. On the second day of competition, Team USA was matched up against Team Japan. With Team Japan missing their two best players, there was not much of a chance for them, and Team USA steamrolled Japan 8-0. Team USA seemed to be rolling, and was set up for a great game against our archrivals north of the border to close out the preliminary round. In a hard-hitting, back and forth, and fast-paced game, Team Canada came away with a 2-1 win, mostly due to a few costly mistakes by Team USA. Looking to bounce back from the loss, Team USA would face Team Norway again in the semi-finals, and bounce back they did. With 40 shots on goal, Team USA dominated the three periods, and came away with a 4-1 win, and a chance for revenge against Team Canada in the gold medal match, which was televised live on national TV in Canada. And revenge is oh so sweet! Team USA came out to play and dominated the majority of the game. Scoreless halfway through the game, Team USA Captain Taylor Chace, rifled a shot from the blue line that snuck right under the Canadian goalie’s glove hand. And with Team USA’s defense playing the best they had all tournament, that was all the offense they would need. Perhaps the play of the game was made by USA rookie, 15-year-old Declan Farmer. Canada’s captain had a breakaway, and despite being stoned by goalie Steve Cash, who was crashed into by the Canadian forward, pushing him out of the crease, the puck was trickling towards the goal line. Right before the puck crossed the goal line, Farmer swooped in and cleared the puck to the corner! This was definitely the save of the game by both Cash and Farmer, and preserved the shutout and the win for Team USA! The gold medal belonged to Team USA, and the job they went to Calgary to do, had been done!

While you can see that the World Sledge Challenge was definitely a success for Team USA, there is no doubt that it was predicated by a successful end to Movember! I mentioned in last month’s blog that many of the players participated in Movember, growing mustaches to raise awareness for men’s health issues, and as Movember came to an end while the team was in Calgary, the staches were on full display! To document a few stache success stories, The Mustacheateer himself, Team USA forward Josh Sweeney, took the mic and began interviewing players and staff on the journeys of growing their upper lip artwork. Chronicled in Team USA’s “Stache Talk” episodes, you can check out different players’ journeys, including my own, right here.  

With a great end to Movember, and an even better beginning to December, Team USA is enjoying their early holiday gift: going home with an extra ornament to hang on the tree. This was definitely a great way to start the season and end 2012, and now Team USA will prepare to face the Russians and South Koreans at the end of January in Charlotte, N.C. Until then, I hope everyone has a Happy Holiday and a great New Year’s! Here’s to another year of gold medals for Team USA!

Team USA at the World Sledge Challenge
 World Sledge Challenge champions!