The U.S. National Sled Team may be missing one of the major players in its tournament victories at the last three major international events in Taylor Lipsett (Plano, Texas) but the team is in no way short on talent. Boasting veterans such as captain Taylor Chace (Hampton Falls, N.H.) and goaltender Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.), Team USA has plenty of leadership. However, four fresh faces are injecting new blood into the U.S. squad, giving the team more depth than ever before; Craig Brady (Norwood, Mass.), Declan Farmer (Tampa, Fla.), Billy Hanning (Festus, Mo.), and Paul Shaus (Buffalo, N.Y.) are all making their international debuts.
“This team is much improved,” said Josh Pauls (Green Brook, N.Y.), a three-year member of the national team. “That’s not a knock to the guys on the old team, but this team has a lot of talent, a lot of youth and a lot of speed.”
As defending champions of the last three major international tournaments, including the 2009 International Paralympic Committee World Sledge Hockey Championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic; the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver; and the 2012 IPC World Sledge Hockey Championship in Hamar, Norway, Team USA has only added to their talent pool for the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge. The newcomers quickly became a valuable part of the team, helping the U.S. to a 3-1 win over Norway in the first game of the tournament.
“We’re making them feel part of the team and comfortable, like they’ve been around for a long time and not that they are the new guys,” said Chace. “They’re obviously going to be excited, but we have some great leaders and great teammates on this team so I don’t think they should be worried about anything.”
Among the rookies is 15-year-old Farmer. Although born in 1997 and in his first campaign with the national team, he has demonstrated skills and maturity beyond his years, notching his first career goal in his first career game.
“He’s a great player. He plays just as well as any of us,” said defenseman Joshua Sweeney (Phoenix, Ariz.). “He’s very dedicated; work hard on and off the ice and when he come out he does what he needs to do to win.”
Farmer credits guidance from coaches Jeff Sauer and Guy Gosselin, as well as team leaders, for his success on the ice at such a young age. He also mentioned that his off-ice experience and friendships have helped him improve immensely.
“Being 15 and playing here is awesome, to play with a bunch of older guys, everyone knows what they’re doing,” the forward said. “It’s been a great experience so far. I’ve gotten a lot of great coaching and playing and have had a lot of fun off the ice.”
Brady, a military veteran, has made an impact during his first tour with the senior sled team, after having played last season with the U.S. Developmental Sled Team. The Norwood, Mass. native grew up playing hockey and never imagined he would represent his country on the international stage.
“It’s a great experience,” said Brady. “It’s very humbling, I would say.”
His transition to sled hockey, however, continues to be a work in progress despite his success.
“It took me about six months to learn how to skate, honestly,” the burly defenseman said. “Learning how to use my hands, I’m still working on that. But last year was my first year playing professionally and this is my first time being here. It’s awesome.”
Brady also credited his time spent with the developmental team for his quick ascension within the sport.
“The speed of everything has helped me improve so much since last year when I was with the developmental team,” he said. “I’ve really come great lengths since then.”
Team USA will look to its youngsters again when it takes to the ice tonight (Dec. 3) against Japan at the WinSport Canada Ice Complex.
Tag(s): World Sledge Challenge