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Pennsylvania Claims "Paint America" Gold

01/08/2014, 4:00pm MST

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Pennsylvania is the gold-medal state it was announced today by The USA Hockey Foundation in wrapping up its “Paint America Red, White and Blue” fundraising campaign that spanned the month of December.
The Keystone State's 32 donations led the nation, thus giving it the gold-medal designation. Michigan was not far behind with 27 donors and Massachusetts finished third with 24 donations. Contributions also came from newer hockey markets, including Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina. In total, some 300 people took part with more than $40,000 raised to benefit the continued advancement of hockey in the United States.
“We couldn’t be more thankful to those that participated in this very first Paint America Red, White and Blue campaign,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey and The USA Hockey Foundation. “The contributions received will help further opportunities in the sport at all levels and we are so appreciative of every single gift.”
The USA Hockey Foundation supports USA Hockey efforts that provide opportunities to disabled and disadvantaged youth; help increase participation through a variety of initiatives; enhance the safety of the game; help the U.S. be the best internationally; provide education programs for athletes, coaches, officials and parents; and celebrate the game through commemoration.

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07/27/2015, 11:15am MDT
By USA Hockey

The USA Hockey Foundation is a charitable and educational nonprofit corporation that provides long-range financial support for USA Hockey and promotes the growth of hockey in the United States.

The USA Hockey Foundation is a charitable and educational nonprofit  corporation that provides long-range financial support for USA Hockey  and promotes the growth of hockey in the United States. 

1972 Olympics: Silver Medals and Friends of Gold

09/09/2013, 4:00pm MDT
By Jessi Pierce

The 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team is still maintaining friendships from 40 years ago

Their skates may move a little slower than they did nearly 42 years ago in Sapporo, Japan, and there’s probably more silver and white in their hair, but talk to any member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, and they instantly go back to that time like it happened just yesterday.

“I can still hear the crunch of the snow from our early morning runs around the Olympic Village and playing in those games,” said former defenseman Tom Mellor, a Rhode Island native. “What an experience it all was – just a bunch of amateur hockey players going out to take on the world one game at a time.”

An improbable run to the silver medal started with an upset of Czechoslovakia that some compared to the U.S.’s wins over the Soviet Union in the 1960 and 1980 Olympic Games. Team member and Minnesota native Craig Sarner credits the intense team bond to helping lift Team USA to its success that year.

U.S. Head Coach Murray Williamson demanded that the team stick together right away, beginning with practices and tryouts that began months prior to the Olympic Games. Sarner and Mellor both note that, “everyone had one another’s backs” and “it became one of our biggest and most important families.”

And it’s a family that hasn’t drifted, even though states and careers now separate them. The team chemistry still carries on today with the majority of the players that donned the Red, White and Blue all those years ago.

“The medal was important,” said Sarner. “But the friendships we developed and the lifelong bond we have is the biggest part of it all. We just enjoy the heck out of being together, and it was that chemistry that helped us prove that will does beat skill sometimes.”

After the Olympic Games, most of the team, which included the likes of a then 16-year-old Mark Howe, Henry Boucha and Mike “Lefty” Curran, went on to some sort of professional hockey career, still staying in touch every year via email and phone calls and trips all across the U.S. Sarner, Mellor and the rest of the squad get together frequently. Their last trip was to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the summer of 2012. Mellor said the team already has plans to meet up again this year, a reunion that everyone looks forward to.

The conversation is not always focused solely on hockey. Sarner is still involved as a scout for the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League. Mellor hung up the skates and moved on to “life after hockey.”

They also update the hockey family on each player’s personal family.

“I’m a new grandpa with a granddaughter, Eve, so I am boring the guys with photos and information about her constantly,” said Sarner, whose silver-plated medal hangs in Eve’s room. “So I know they’re tiring of it, but we all update on family life and just everything that’s going on with one another. Never a lack of stories, some true, some fabricated, when this group gets together.”

Stories will be shared by the 1972 alums and their extended USA Hockey family for years to come.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to play with and meet than that team,” said Mellor. “Them and really everyone involved in the USA Hockey organization, from the 1980 team, and beyond, it’s neat to be a part of something like that – to be a part of that family.”

Paving the Way: 2002 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team

06/23/2015, 9:45am MDT
By Miles McQuinn

Few U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey fans recall a time when the United States didn’t dominate on the international stage. With back-to-back gold medals in 2010 and 2014 and a bronze in 2006, the Americans have gotten the better of their opponents in the last decade.

But every success story has a beginning; a group of pioneers who started it all. For the U.S. sled hockey squads, that success started in 2002.
In March of that year, 15 men traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, with the hopes of achieving the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. at the Paralympic Games. After sixth-place finishes at both the 1998 Nagano Games and the 2000 World Championships, a gold medal seemed far-fetched. But a monumental switch happened behind the bench the year prior to the Salt Lake City Games.

Enter Rick Middleton, a man who spent 14 seasons in the NHL, 12 of them with the Boston Bruins. 
He was one of the more prolific scorers in history and his knowledge of the game was instrumental in the turnaround of the program.

“He implemented a system and taught us a lot about the game. Things that we didn't realize that we were doing wrong all along,” recalls Josh Wirt, a member of the 2002 U.S. team. “We went from a team that went in and thought we might win, to a team that had confidence. We believed in the system and we believed in each other. Rick taught us how to be a team and he taught us how to win.”

And win they did. Team USA swept through the preliminary round with a perfect 5-0 record. To add to the feat, they managed to beat all three of the 1998 Nagano medalists (Canada, 5-1, Norway, 2-1, and Sweden, 6-0) in the process. They outscored their opponents 22-3, never trailing at any point. Now, just seven days after a tournament that looked to be a challenge, the U.S. was set for a gold-medal showdown with Norway, the defending gold-medal winners from the Nagano Games.

“We were all feeling pretty good knowing that we were going home with at least a silver, but obviously that was the last thing on anybody's mind,” said Wirt, who was the youngest member on the team at 17 years old. “You get that far and shock everybody, you definitely want to go out and win the gold.” 

In front of a record-setting crowd of 8,315, Team USA took the ice with the same confidence Middleton instilled in them from the beginning. But in the opening minutes they found themselves on the losing end of the scoreboard for the first time in the Olympic Games. Then U.S. captain Joe Howard tallied two goals in 67 seconds to help Team USA storm back into a 3-1 lead. Norway kept the score tight, adding two more goals of their own in the remaining period to force overtime. 

A 10-minute extra period didn’t decide a winner, pushing the teams to a shootout. It was all Team USA needed, clipping the Norwegians, 4-3. The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team had won its first-ever gold medal.

The immediate impact of that game set the wheels in motion for where sled hockey is today. After 13 years, the game has never been stronger.

“Guys are starting a lot younger,” Wirt said. “You look at somebody like Declan [Farmer] or Brody [Roybal] they’ve been playing their whole life. They had the chance to start at such a young age. I didn’t start until I was 14 years old.”

The starting ages are younger among today's players and the number of players and leagues continue to increase. The national development program has been a blessing as well for young talent in the U.S., allowing American players to further strengthen their abilities before spending time with the national team.

There's no questioning how far sled hockey has come since 2002. It once was a sport that received little to no funding. Now, funds are available and the sport has national television coverage for the Paralympics and the 2015 IPC World Championships. What’s next is uncertain. Wirt would love to see the funding increase to the point where perhaps a professional league could be started. No matter what is next, he’s happy to know he was a part of the group that put sled hockey on the map in the U.S. 

Because of that team, the sky is the limit for generations of players to come.

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