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Passing the Torch Sustains U.S. Sled Program

03/05/2014, 2:45pm MST
By Matt Trevor - USAHockey.com

SOCHI, Russia -- Poised to compete in their third Paralympic Winter Games together, Steve Cash, Taylor Chace, Taylor Lipsett and Andy Yohe are already among the most accomplished sled hockey players in the United States. They won the bronze medal in 2006, the gold medal in 2010 and have plans to make Team USA the first back-to-back Paralympic gold medalist in 2014.

Additionally, three other prominent members of the U.S. sled hockey community are contributing to the 2014 Paralympic Games in a variety of capacities. Keith Blase, who was head coach of the 2006 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, is now the International Paralympic Committee’s Technical Committee Chairman for sled hockey. Lonnie Hannah, a forward on the 2002 and 2006 U.S. Paralympic squads, is in Sochi to serve as Athlete Service Coordinator for U.S. athletes. Lastly, Kip St. Germaine, a member of the 1998, 2002 and 2006 U.S. teams, will be providing color commentary for the NBC Sports Group broadcasts.

Current and former Team USA members alike, they all are incredibly proud of sled hockey’s growth across the United States. Of the 17 players on this year’s Paralympic Team, nine are first-timers who are products of USA Hockey Player Development Camps and/or the U.S. National Developmental Sled Hockey Team.

“When I became coach of the national team after the 2002 Paralympics, we started a developmental program to create a sustainable environment for the sport,” said Blase, who coached the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team through 2006-07. “We ended up using that feeder system quite a bit more than I think we anticipated in the lead up to 2006 because some of our best players were young players, and many of them are still playing today. Now with the IPC, we are encouraging similar programs.”

After retiring from Team USA, Hannah transferred his passion for sled hockey to a teaching role. He helped start the San Antonio Rampage program, which introduces sled hockey to wounded members of the military. The Rampage has three players – Jen Lee, Rico Roman, Josh Sweeney - on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team. Hannah relishes the opportunity to support some of his former teammates and current pupils here in Sochi.

“I had some great athlete service coordinators when I played and I wanted to be that guy for these players that I know and care about,” said Hannah, who facilitates daily life in the village. “It’s so fun to watch the young guys that I played with in 2006 transition to become veteran leaders.

“The ‘02 and ‘06 teams, we talk consistently and I feel like we started something and left our legacy. We’re as proud of these guys as we can be. They’ve continued the legacy on extremely well.”

Described by Hannah as “one of the founding fathers of sled hockey in the U.S.,” St. Germaine has an active hand in the American feeder system as associate head coach of the U.S. National Developmental Team. Two of the most recent graduates of that squad include 15-year-old Brody Roybal and 16-year-old Declan Farmer, who are among the next wave of talented Americans.

“We’re starting to see the third generation of players coming into the U.S. National Team Program,” said Lipsett, who started playing sled hockey in 2002 after Team USA’s first Paralympic gold medal. “Guys like Kip, Lonnie and Joe Howard started things in the 90’s. Then you had the second group like me, Steve Cash and Taylor Chace, who were teenagers when we started. Now we have guys like Declan, Brody and Dan McCoy, who have been playing since they were kids. We have so much depth and so many players in the U.S. that we should be good for a long time.”

Team USA has two more practices before Friday’s Paralympic Opening Ceremony and Saturday’s tournament opener against Italy. Watch the game live at 7:30 a.m. ET on TeamUSA.org.

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March 27, 2017 | When USA Hockey implemented its American Development Model in 2009, one element of the nationwide age-appropriate training blueprint sparked more debate than any other: cross-ice hockey for 8U players. In the years since, an abundance of evidence, both data-driven and anecdotal, has proven the developmental advantages of cross-ice hockey.

This week, Hockey Canada announced that it too will introduce its players to the game through cross-ice play beginning in 2017-18.

“Re-sizing the playing surface to cross-ice or half-ice means more puck touches, which result in more chances to practice puck control and shooting, as well as overall more movement and motor skill-development – twisting, turning, balance, coordination, agility,” said Paul Carson, vice-president of membership development for Hockey Canada, in a release today. “Their field-of-play matches their size, and these players hone in on their skill-development in a way that larger ice surfaces just aren’t conducive to.”

The Grassroots Show on Ottawa’s TSN 1200 weighed in on the decision. Click the audio link below to hear how Canada is embracing cross-ice hockey for the coming season and beyond.

Tom Renney, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, appeared on the Grassroots Show to discuss the nationwide shift to cross-ice hockey, beginning this fall for 5- and 6-year-olds and expanding to all of Canada's Novice (8U) level in 2018-19.

“When you see 10 or 12 or 14 or 16 kids out on the ice in between periods and they’re playing 200-by-85 and 3 or 4 kids touch the puck in that whole six minutes, yet there’s people in the stands clapping and thinking it’s wonderful, I just can’t help but think about the 95 percent of the children that didn’t even touch the puck or get from one end of the rink to the other and I ask myself what are we doing when the opportunity is certainly there to have 30 kids on the ice playing cross-ice and everyone is having a much better opportunity to touch the puck, skate a shorter distance and really play. It just boggles my mind,” said Renney.

“We completely embrace, at the Initiation level and the Novice level, cross-ice hockey and we have mandated that in the Initiation program and we will mandate it across the country in Novice hockey.

“This is about the pure enjoyment of the game, and your first connection with it has to be something that’s pure fun, on a surface of play that is conducive to much more participation and joy.”

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