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Passing the Torch Sustains U.S. Sled Program

03/05/2014, 2:45pm EST
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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