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U.S. Paralympic Sled Players Hone Skills Across Ice, Grass and Snow

By Greg Bates, 02/25/18, 11:15AM EST


Dodson, Grove and Landeros are just a few of Team USA's multi-sport athletes

Travis Dodson will make his debut as a Paralympic sled hockey player at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea this March. 

While the experience will be entirely new as a sled hockey athlete, it won’t mark Dodson’ first time competing in a Paralympic Winter Games. Four years ago in Sochi, Dodson was a member of the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Ski Team. It was actually there that he learned about sled hockey and developed a desire to try the sport.

Dodson believes it’s pretty rare for an athlete to compete in the Paralympics in one sport and four years later make the Games in a different sport.

“There’s definitely some athletes who will do wheelchair racing in the summer and then cross-country skiing in the winter, but I’m not sure how many have shifted the way I have,” Dodson said.

While Dodson’s specific road to the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team is unique in that he learned the sport at the Paralympics while competing in another event, his time as a multi-sport athlete is one several members of Team USA can relate with. 

Forward Travis Dodson in his first season with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team

Longtime defenseman and alternate captain Nikko Landeros finished in second place at the 2016 Winter X Games as a mono-skier. First-time Paralympian Noah Grove is a member of the U.S. National Amputee Soccer Team. Other teammates, like Kevin McKee and Adam Page have played wheelchair basketball or wheelchair lacrosse.

“I think having guys that have done other things and have competed at higher levels in different sports does help in some aspects when younger guys ask have questions on how you handle pressure and the mental game,” Landeros said. 

Added Dodson, “It is really cool to have other guys that have done other stuff because it shows the athleticism that we have on our team this year.”

Grove, who is just 18, participated in the Amputee World Cup of Soccer in 2014 before making the U.S. Development Sled Hockey Team. After juggling time with both soccer and hockey, the Frederick, Md., native has found a good balance competing in both sports.

“When I’m on the ice a lot I’m usually not playing soccer and vice versa,” Grove said. “Hockey season really digs into it, because I’m working really hard and training hard specifically for sled hockey. Normally during the couple summer months I’m doing a little bit of soccer, but still doing hockey with camps and tournaments and tryouts in the summer."

Guy Gosselin, head coach of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, certainly believes having athletes well versed in other sports gives them a solid base to know what to expect during competition.

“I think playing multiple sports helps them understand the ups and downs sports bring, and you learn to keep it on an even keel and progressively get better,” Gosselin said.

Added Dodson, “It is really cool to have other guys that have done other stuff because it shows the athleticism that we have on our team this year.”

Dodson raced in four events in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, placing 19th in the 1km sprint, 20th in the 7.5km biathlon, 21st in the 15km biathlon and 23rd in the 10km.

Transitioning from cross-country skiing to sled hockey was pretty flawless for him. The arm motions in cross-country skiing are very similar to the motions used in hockey, so Dodson had already developed his body.

“I didn’t have to get in shape by any means to play hockey,” said the 32-year-old. “But I just had to do so much skill work is where a lot of my focus went. Stickhandling, shooting, all that stuff, and obviously my hockey IQ was very, very poor. All that stuff really took a while and continues to develop.”

Dodson had to give up his place with the U.S. Ski Team after making the U.S. Development Sled Hockey Team in 2015.

Nikko Landeros during the X Games. Photo credit Russ Wiley

Landeros, who won Paralympic gold medals with the U.S. in 2010 and 2014, was able to prepare for the X Games while competing with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. With hockey still the priority and ultimate focus, Landeros got the OK to compete from general manager Dan Brennan, the late head coach Jeff Sauer as well as his teammates. The Johnstown, Colo. said they were all very supportive of his decision.

“Hockey was and still is always the priority, but skiing and the X-Games was something I always found cool and wanted to do it for a long time,” Landeros said. “The idea of  competing in skiing didn’t really get serious until after we won in Sochi. I kind of said, ‘Hey, I want to compete in the X Games’ and my teammates and the coaching staff were supportive of that.”

For Dodson and Landeros, both note that one of the biggest changes in competing in sled hockey versus their time on a ski is the team aspect.

“It’s totally different, because skiing is really you against yourself,” Landeros said. “You’re going against other people, but you can beat yourself up or you can relax and ski a really good race and not worry about hitting a 70-foot jump and crashing. There’s a lot of different aspects, more individual than having to worry about what your teammate is doing. You have to support and trust somebody other than yourself.”

Competing in other sports on a big stage has prepared Dodson and Grove, who are both forwards, for their first Paralympic Winter Games as sled hockey players.

“There’s always the excitement that comes with representing your country, but playing those other sports really helped the transition as far as like the mental side,” Grove said.

Dodson believes his experience in 2014 will help calm his nerves during this year’s Paralympics.

“My eyes aren’t going to be as big,” Dodson said. “They definitely were in Sochi. This go around, there’s a focus, and that’s the help this team win a gold medal.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

The month of February is recognized by the NHL as Hockey Is For Everyone Month, which reaffirms that the official policy of the sport is one of inclusion on the ice, in the locker rooms and in the stands. Around the hockey community, leagues and teams will celebrate the game's diversity and commitment to respect for all.

2018 U.S. Paralympic Roster

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U.S. Paralympic Schedule

Date Opponent/Round Result Venue
Sun., March 11 Japan
W, 10-0 Gangneung Hockey Centre
Mon., March 12 Czech Republic
W, 10-0 Gangneung Hockey Centre
Tues., March 13 Korea
W, 8-0 Gangneung Hockey Centre
Thurs., March 15 Italy
W, 10-1 Gangneung Hockey Centre
Sun., March 18 Canada
Gold-Medal Game
W, 2-1 (OT) Gangneung Hockey Centre

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