The Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning each earned titles today at the ninth annual USA Hockey Sled Classic, presented by the NHL.
The four-day event that commenced last Thursday (Feb. 7) was hosted by the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago. MB Ice Arena, the practice facility and community rink of the Blackhawks, served as the primary facility while nearby Johnny's Icehouse West was also utilized. The field included a record 30 teams associated with a record-tying 20 NHL clubs.
The championship tilts started with the Tampa Bay Lightning claiming its first two titles in tournament history. After its Tier V team defeated the Nashville Predators, 5-2, in the first title game of the day, the Lightning's Tier IV entry edged the Dallas Stars in a shootout, 1-0, for the Tier IV crown. The Philadelphia Flyers then defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 6-3, in the Tier III division before the Nashville Predators topped the Oilers, 5-1, to earn the Tier II title. In the Tier I championship game, the Blackhawks defeated the Colorado Avalanche, 8-2, to capture the O'Connor Courage Trophy for the second consecutive year. On hand to present the O'Connor Courage Trophy was 2010 Stanley Cup champion Brian Campbell, current hockey and business operations liaison for the Chicago Blackhawks. For full tournament results and statistics, click here.
In concert with its event-record number of competing teams, the event saw a record 362 skaters represent 20 NHL clubs across five divisions. Among this year's participants were two recipients of the USA Hockey Disabled Athlete of the Year Award and 37 current members of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, U.S. Men's Development Sled Hockey Team and U.S. Women's Development Sled Hockey Team.
In addition to the four championship-winning clubs, other NHL clubs that sponsored teams included the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights. Each team represented their associated NHL club by wearing official NHL licensed jerseys with local club marks and logos.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, behind its Tier IV and Tier V crowns, became the fifteenth different NHL club to win a division title in the event's nine-year history while the Blackhawks' Tier I crown pushes their total division titles to four, tying the Colorado Avalanche for the most in the event among all NHL clubs. Other NHL clubs to capture a division title in tournament play include the Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.
On Friday (Feb. 8), Chicago Blackhawks defenseman and seven-time U.S. national team player Connor Murphy (Dublin, Ohio) visited the tournament to watch the Tier I and Tier IV Chicago Blackhawks teams before trying sled hockey himself for the first time. Joining him on the ice was two-time U.S. Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist, Brody Roybal (Northlake, Ill.) who last year was named Tournament MVP of the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. Murphy, a two-time IIHF gold medalist and one of eight U.S. players to earn more than one medal in IIHF Men's World Championship play, has skated in five IIHF Men's World Championships (2014, 2015 - bronze, 2016, 2017, 2018 - bronze), one IIHF World Junior Championship (2013) and one IIHF Under-18 Men's World Championship (2011 - gold).
"The first time I saw a game was a couple years ago when the Men's World Championship was around the same time as the sled team's world championship," said Murphy. "They were just flying. It was insane just to see the talent and speed and athleticism they have. You just want to see what that feels like. You gain so much more respect for it, more than you already had, which is high. It's cool to see the different sleds and the strength that guys have with them."
The 2018-19 disabled hockey season will conclude with the the 15th annual Toyota-USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival set to take place over the course of two weekends in March and April in Wesley Chapel, Fla. The largest event of its kind, the 2019 event will be held at the AdventHealth Center Ice and see all six disabled hockey disciplines represented. From March 28-31, tournament play will include blind, deaf/hard of hearing, special hockey, standing amputee & warrior hockey while April 4-7 will see the sled hockey discipline headlined by the USA Hockey Sled Hockey National Championship division.
NOTES: As a symbol of the NHL's commitment to the sled hockey community, the Tier I champion is awarded the O'Connor Courage Trophy, which was introduced at the 2017 event ... Hockey Is For Everyone™ is a joint NHL and NHLPA initiative celebrating diversity and inclusion, using the sport to foster a greater sense of teamwork, dedication, and perseverance – hockey’s core values. New this season, the Hockey Is For Everyone initiative has expanded from one month to year-round with NHLPA, NHL, Club and player participation supporting communities and grassroots hockey. For more information on the initiative, click here ... Six NHL clubs – the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning – had two associated teams in this year's USA Hockey Sled Classic while the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers had three teams ... Previous NHL teams to host the event include the Colorado Avalanche (2010; Denver, Colo.); Philadelphia Flyers (2011; Voorhees, N.J.); Buffalo Sabres (2012; Williamsville, N.Y.); Pittsburgh Penguins (2013; Pittsburgh, Pa.); Washington Capitals (2014; Arlington, Va.); Florida Panthers (2015; Sunrise, Fla.) and the Minnesota Wild (2017; Plymouth, Minn.) ... For more information on the sport of sled hockey, click here.