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Help Paint America Red, White and Blue

By USAHockey.com, 12/05/13, 12:00PM MST

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - With the 2014 Olympic Winter Games straight ahead, and an objective to help strengthen hockey at all levels in the United States, The USA Hockey Foundation has launched its “Paint America Red, White and Blue” fundraising campaign, which runs through the end of the year.

“This is a unique initiative to really celebrate and honor our sport through giving,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey and The USA Hockey Foundation. “We’re out to help give more kids a chance to play this great sport and also assist those that represent our country on their path to what we hope is a gold-medal performance.”

As donations are made, states will be “painted” on a digital map based on how many donations come in from that state. States with 1-10 donations will be painted red; states with 11-25 donations will be painted white; and states with 26 or more donations will be painted blue. On December 31, the end of the campaign, the state with the most donations will be painted gold.
Donations can be made in multiple ways:

• Online at www.usahockeyfoundation.com/paintamerica
• By phone at 719.538.1106
• By sending a text to 41444 with the message PAINT and amount of your pledge

Fans are encouraged to contribute whatever they can and then Tweet to @usahockey (hashtag #PaintAmerica) to share that they’ve contributed and what state they’re from.

The USA Hockey Foundation supports USA Hockey efforts that give 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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Paving the Way: 2002 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team

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

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.