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Sledge Hockey Challenge a Paralympic Litmus Test

11/29/2013, 10:15am EST
By Dan Hickling - Special to USAHockey.com

Last year, a pinnacle. This year, a launching pad.

For three years out of every four, the World Sledge Hockey Challenge serves as a de facto world championship.

Not this year.

Not with 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, just around the corner.

This year the weeklong Sledge Hockey Challenge, which gets under way Dec. 1 in Toronto, will serve as a Paralympics tune-up for the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, which captured last year's Challenge title in Calgary, and will defend its 2010 Paralympic gold medal in Sochi.

“We don't need to be the best team in the world this weekend,” U.S. coach Jeff Sauer said. “But we want to be the best team in the world [in Sochi], and that's what we're building on, starting this week.”

Team USA will join sled squads from Canada, Russia, and Korea in preliminary round play at the MasterCard Centre, with the semifinals to be held Dec. 5. The championship game will then be Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. EST.

The World Sledge Hockey Challenge will be Team USA's first competition since the selection camp in July, and after four months of pounding on each other, the opportunity to vie against players other than themselves is a welcome one.

“The big thing,” said Sauer, “is to send a message that we're ready to go. Winning and losing is always important. There are a lot of things on the line.”

Solidifying the final roster is among the items at stake. Sauer and his staff must make a cut from the current 18-man roster by Jan. 1, 2014. That is easier said that done given the Americans’ talented roster that includes seven veterans from the 2010 Paralympic gold-medal team. Among those returning is defenseman Andy Yohe, a two-time Paralympian who came out retirement and has since been named team captain for the second consecutive Winter Games.

The competition from within the U.S. squad is as spirited as it is from outside, Sauer said.

“We've got the best depth that we've ever had in our program,” he said. “We've got people competing for positions. I know some of the other countries don't have the depth that we have. But that depth and experience has to perform. The chemistry is very important. It always is. But we're very pleased with that as well.”

Sauer said that while his team will have to focus on its own strengths during the Sledge Hockey Challenge, it would be foolish to take the other contenders lightly.

“I'm concerned about Russia because they are the host country, and they've come a long way in a short time,” he said. “I'm looking forward to seeing just how far they have come. We'll know a lot more Sunday afternoon after we play them.”

The Dec. 4 matchup with Canada will likely be the strongest test of the tournament. Sauer said it could be a litmus test of sorts.

“I'm not going to do anything special against them,” he said. “You get more from an information standpoint, and not so much by cueing in on making sure we win the games. I want to find out who matches up against who, who our better players are against some of their guys.

“Those types of things are not only a learning situation for the players, but for the coaching staff in preparation for the actual [Paralympic] games. When the medal is on the line.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Team USA World Sledge Hockey Challenge Schedule

Date  Opponent   Time/Result
Dec. 1 Russia W, 2-1
Dec. 2 Korea W, 5-0
Dec. 4 Canada L, 1-4
Dec. 5 Russia (Semis) W, 4-1
Dec. 7 Canada (Finals) L, 1-3

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TIER I GIRLS - Marlborough, MA
Michael Bontatibus (Hooksett, NH)
Brea Boone (San Clemente, CA)
Jennifer Cameron (Hollywood, FL)
Kelly Cooke (Andover, MA)
Stephen Drain (Milton, MA)
Jennifer Glynn (Leominster, MA)
Michael Goodwin (Upton, MA)
Melanie Gotsdiner (Plano, TX)
Katie Guay (Mansfield, MA)
Bryan Harrington (Franklin, MA)
Samantha Hiller (Boulder, CO)
Jamie Huntley (La Jolla, CA)
Rachel Hutchinson (Brewster, MA)
Ted Kellar (Cheshire, MA)
Adam Kiel (Milford, MA)
Jessica Leclerc (Old Orchard Beach, ME)
Matthew Lowe (Hudson, MA)
Cameron Lynch (Somerville, MA)
Kyle McQuoid (Clinton, MA)
Brian Milliken (Leominster, MA)
Jarred Mitrano (Haverhill, MA)
Kristin Moore (Salt Lake City, UT)
Crystalle Parent (Londonderry, NH)
Chelsea Rapin (Shelburne, VT)
Chris Riley (Sterling, MA)
Jill Salvo (Long Beach, CA)
George Soares (Cotuit, MA)
Jackie Spresser (Aurora, CO)
Brienne Stewart (Tulalip, WA)
Melissa Szkola (Clinton Township, MI)
Bridget Waitkus (Attleboro, MA)
Joshua Wang (Cambridge, MA)
Carol Weston (Bristol, VT)
Taylor Willert (Sun Prairie, WI)
Mackenzie Williams (Rome, NY)

TIER II GIRLS - Amherst, NY
Brittney Berning (Litchfield, MN)
Kayleigh Bowers (Dallas, TX)
Tony Brovata (Sanborn, NY)
Francesca Clemente (Brooklyn, NY)
Samuel Cucinotta (Kenmore, NY)
Nicole Davis (Crystal Lake, IL)
Kevin Frankowski (Depew, NY)
Michael Fusani (Depew, NY)
Kendall Hanley (Allen, TX)
Daniel Iulianello (Webster, NY)
Katrina Kleinschmit (East Lansing, MI)
Amy Loughman (Teaneck, NJ)
Janine Martinez (Lovonia, MI)
Ceci Morris (Hoffman Estates, IL)
Peter Nigrelli (Buffalo, NY)
Andrew Nosek (Buffalo, NY)
David Panek (Buffalo, NY)
Jodi Price (Arkport, NY)
John Rivera (Farmington, NY)
William Robins (North Tonawanda, NY)
Stefanie Schmitz (Farmington, MN)
Scott Smith (Webster, NY)
Sara Strong (Grand Rapids, MI)
Randy Szukala (North Tonawanda, NY)
Alex Valvo (East Aurora, NY)
Madeleine Weeks (Philadelphia, PA)

TIER I YOUTH - Green Bay, WI
Travis Ahlberg (Birchwood, WI)
James Blankenship (Rhinelander, WI)
Scott Bokal (Manchester, MO)
Gerald Borman (Eagan, MN)
Denny Bourgoin (Lewiston, ME)
William Conybear (Madison, WI)
Nick Cristan (Hudson, WI)
Robert Dawson (Winfield, IL)
Shane Dillon (Saumico, WI)
Kyle Domin (Bozeman, MT)
Anthony Guzzo (Spokane, WA)
Jonathan Haas (Fitchburg, WI)
Andrew Hudson (Manchester, MO)
Jeff Klein (Denver, CO)
Michael Lacina (Omaha, NE)
Kyle Larson (West Liberty, IA)
Travis Larson (West Liberty, IA)
John Melancon (Lyman, ME)
Gabriel O'Lena (Soldotna, AK)
Karl Olm (Madison, WI)
Robert Pagani (Beecher, IL)
Richard Palo (Foristell, MO)
Dylan Peper (Arvada, CO)
Curt Peterson (Aldie, VA)
Daniel Rack (Glendale Heights, IL)
Brad Roethlisberger (Green Bay, WI)
Brandon Schroder (Wausau, WI)
Jayson Selbert (Cheektowaga, NY)
Adam Shadiow (Saginaw, MN)
James (Cody) Smith (Murfreesboro, TN)
Matthew Spaeth (Hillsboro, MO)
Zane Stout (Irwin, PA)
Mason Strom (Hoffman Estates, IL)
Todd Turner (Chicago, IL)
Michael Verdonck (Chicago, IL)
Alex Vigh (Grosse Ile, MI)
Nicholas West (Orland Park, IL)

TIER II 14 & UNDER - Hackensack, NJ
David Aiello (Newtown, PA)
Carl Barling (Sparta, NJ)
Robert Backl (St. Joseph, MN)
Danielle Bugge (West Windsor, NJ)
Fred Cleck (Annville, PA)
Paul Crosta (Morris Plains, NJ)
Morgen Dautrich (Nazareth, PA)
Michael Dimino (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Thomas Dugan Jr. (North Brunswick, NJ)
Jon Hayes (Atco, NJ)
Blake Hishmeh (Kinnelon, NJ)
Louis Imbriani (Anchorage, AK)
Alexios Karabetsos (Troy, MI)
Isaac Kessler (Ambler, PA)
Brian McCullough (Morton, PA)
Eric Michaels (Philadelphia, PA)
Robert Navickas (Morton, PA)
Donald Nichols (Dover, NJ)
Michael Oreskovich (West Deptford, NJ)
John Patenaude (Glenside, PA)
Ryan Pergola (Nutley, NJ)
Sean Perry (Kunkletown, PA)
Duncan Ryhorchuk (Hanover, MN)
Samuel Schildkraut (Media, PA)
John Thompson (Lancaster, PA)
Dalton Tice (Reading, PA)
Kevin Vena (Perkiomenville, PA)
Brett Wallen (Williamstown, NJ)
Eric Workman (Lakeville, MN)

TIER II 16 & UNDER - Reston, VA
Justin Baker (Alexandria, VA)
John Canoy (Fairbanks, AK)
Marcus Currie (Laurel, MD)
Armand DeForest (Phoenix, AZ)
Christopher Dietz (Washington, DC)
Colin Gates (Fairfax, VA)
Alex Germany-Wald (Washington, DC)
Logan Gruhl (North Chesterfield, VA)
Brian Jansen (Inver Grove Heights, MN)
Jason Johnson (Lakeville, MN)
Ronald Johnson (Lake Wylie, SC)
Richard Jondo (Baltimore, MD)
Richard Kuerston (Atlanta, GA)
Gary Labelle (Arlington, VA)
Jason Lortie (Coral Springs, FL)
Michael Lucas (North Royalton, OH)
Jeremy Malin (Aldie, VA)
Jason Messimore (Knoxville, TN)
Bob Nolan (Laurel, MD)
Peter Olson (Essex Junction, VT)
Thomas Parynik (Chesterfield, VA)
Josh Pergande (Reston, VA)
Matt Pettigrew (Sterling, VA)
Richard Robichaud (Lorton, VA)
Scott Sivulich (Wasilla, AK)
Derek Vandenberg (Arvada, CO)
Matthew VanHorne (Manassas, VA)
Joel Webster (Raleigh, NC)
Justin Yott (Colorado Springs, CO)

TIER II 18 & UNDER - Wayne, NJ
Chris Bluem (Kendall Park, NJ)
David Brown (Neptune, NJ)
Michael Dalton (Camden, NJ)
Timothy Foreman (Hershey, PA)
Blaine Forkell (Souderton, PA)
Michael Forys (Cottage Grove, MN)
Timothy Funk (Rye, NH)
Jeff Greenstein (Potomac, MD)
Colin Haas (Plano, TX)
Patrick Hanrahan (Hatfield, PA)
Michael Kubec (Mentor, OH)
Benedict Manderachi (Douglassville, PA)
Jason Mandroc (Downingtown, PA)
David Maxfield (Rochester, NH)
Tom McCullough (Conshohocken, PA)
Chris McPhee (Kearns, UT)
Justin Nicol (Lake Stevens, WA)
Robert Perry (Kunkletown, PA)
Steven Sailor (Sewell, NJ)
Daniel Shilkitus (Landenberg, PA)
Chris Shoppell (Fort Wayne, IN)
Gary Shpungin (Wayne, NJ)
Andrew Suhovic (Bayonne, NJ)
Jason Theodore (North Wales, PA)
Dustin Thompson (Missoula, MT)
Brandon Uzarek (Evansville, IN)
David Zulla (Roebling, NJ)
Eric Zullo (Avenel, NJ)

HIGH SCHOOL VARSITY - Omaha, NE
David Ballantyne (McHenry, IL)
Larry Clark Jr. (Pekin, IL)
Patrick Clay (Missoula, MT)
Russell Coll (Olathe, KS)
Joshua Eiden (Saint Bonafacius, MN)
Terry Farrar (Saint Charles, MO)
Brian Fisher (Aurora, IL)
Tim Frazee (Fairfax, IA)
Colin Gruenke (Northbrook, IL)
Brian Hankes (Wheaton, IL)
Jeff Hirsch (Woodstock, IL)
Benton Kooman (O'Fallon, MO)
Robert Lowth (Rolling Meadows, IL)
Josh Lupinek (Minnetonka, MN)
Nicholas Matarazzi (Saint Louis, MO)
William Murphy (Saint Charles, MO)
Arnold Pizzutelli (Overland Park, KS)
Terrance Saunders (Manhattan, KS)
Joshua Scott (Fort Wayne, IN)
Colin Snodgrass (Missoula, MT)
J.R. Stragar (Pittsburgh, PA)
William Valiant (Corvallis, OR)

SENIOR WOMEN - Marlborough, MA
Lorraine Adkisson (Estell Manor, NJ)
Leah Buysse (Waunakee, WI)
Rebecca Caron (Belmont, NH)
Cleveland Coats Jr. (Lexington, MA)
Donald Cowern Jr. (Ashland, MA)
Keisha Dunlevy (Worthington, MA)
Mary Frey (Edina, MN)
Jean Goodwin (Reading, MA)
Jamie Lalos (Billerica, MA)
Michelle Lichterman (Mount Prospect, IL)
Paul Maguire (Natick, MA)
Bryan McKay (Groton, MA)
Kristin Moran (Sartell, MN0
Ken Murphy (Melrose, MA)
Kevin Nelson (Billerica, MA)
Stephen Phaneuf (Hudson, MA)
Colleen Reddy (Salisbury, MA)
James Riley (Lancaster, MA)
Randy Silveira (Seekonk, MA)
Cory Talbott (Edgewater, MD)
James Ternullo (Billerica, MA)
Cody Tremblay (Brighton, MA)
Edward Vahey (Wellesley, MA)
Andrea Weissman (South Grafton, MA)

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