The Paralympics will open Friday in Sochi, with Team USA getting on the ice for the first time Saturday against Italy.
After winning gold in Vancouver, expectations for this edition of the U.S. sled hockey team are sky high. Under the direction of legendary college hockey coach Jeff Sauer, who was not with the team in 2010, the team has several returnees from that squad that will be providing leadership and production for Team USA.
Led by goaltender Steve Cash, who did not allow a single goal in Vancouver, Team USA will also be looking to an experienced core of Paralympic veterans including returning captain Andy Yohe, Taylor Chace and Taylor Lipsett.
The great news is that NBC Sports Network will be covering some games, some live, some on tape delay with all streamed live from TeamUSA.org. If you’ve never seen sled hockey before, this is a great chance to check it out. It is as physical and fast as anything you’ve seen from stand up players, too.
More on the TV schedule and the team after the jump.
Just to quickly give you a little history of Team USA at the Paralympics, the U.S. has participated in sled hockey at the Paralympics since 1998. The U.S. finished sixth place that year, but won gold on home ice in 2002, took bronze in 2006 and again won gold in 2010.
Of the 21 games the U.S. has played at the Paralympics, they’ve won 15 of them. Team USA most recently went 5-0-0 without allowing a single goal at the 2010 Paralympics. Cash was obviously named the tournament’s best goaltender and Taylor Chace came away with best defenseman honors.
There are eight returnees from that team in 2014 with some interesting fresh faces that will be looking to make a major impact.
Team USA’s buildup to the 2014 Paralympics didn’t start out as well as the team would have hoped after falling to Canada at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge More recently, Team USA won two of three games in a series with Canada in Indian Trail, N.C., in January.
Quick note: We call it sled hockey in the U.S., the rest of the world calls it sledge hockey.
Before we get into the players, if you haven’t yet, stop reading this right now and watch the fantastic PBS documentary about this team. You can watch Ice Warriors in full right here. It is utterly fantastic and a great way to learn about these guys before they hit the ice in Sochi. Also be sure to poke around the site as there are a lot of extras there to find out more about these players and the Paralympics.
With the games opening Saturday, here’s a look at several players to watch on the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. To meet all of Team USA, USA Hockey’s Paralympics site is really, really good with lengthy bios for each player.
Steve Cash — Often described as the best sled hockey goalie in the world, Cash is coming off his other-worldly performance at the 2010 Paralympics where he stopped all 33 shots he faced over five games (shots are tougher to come by in sled hockey, FYI). As you may know, the net is the same size in sled hockey as it is in stand-up. That’s a lot of space to cover and Cash, who uses a straight-legged approach (some goalies sit cross-legged to be wider), does it expertly. One of my favorite Steve Cash stats is that he has 24 shutouts in 93 national team appearances, meaning he’s good for a shutout about one in every four games. Cash was diagnosed with bone cancer in his right knee in 1992. He underwent amputation surgery at three years old.
Taylor Chace — A longtime veteran of the sled program, Chace is a terrific, physical defenseman who has great hockey sense and puck-moving capabilities. He’s a big strong guy on his sled, so it’s tough to get past him and out-work him along the boards. He is one of the team’s alternate captains. He’s the kind of player that fans of NHL hockey would love as he’s one of those heart-and-soul guys. Chace played stand-up hockey until age 16 when he was injured in a junior hockey game. Chace broke his back and suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury.
Taylor Lipsett — Lipsett is the top returning scorer from 2010′s team. He had seven points in Vancouver and has long been a productive player in the sled system with 58 points in 83 career games. His veteran experience should go a long way. A native of Texas, Lipsett has been active with the Dallas Stars, especially Tyler Seguin, who provides suite tickets to people with disabilities and meets with them after every Stars home game. Lipsett has a genetic bone disorder sometimes known as brittle bone disease. He has suffered multiple broken bones over the course of his life, especially at a young age and utilizes a wheel chair.
Josh Pauls — A rising star in the sled hockey world, Pauls is a speedy productive forward. He was the youngest player on the 2010 Paralympic team and had one assist in five games. Over the last two years, however, Pauls has averaged better than a point-per-game. He has four goals and four assists through eight games this season. The U.S. needs him to be a huge offensive presence in Sochi and he’ll be a lot of fun to watch. Pauls was born without tibias in either leg. He had both legs amputated at age 10.
Declan Farmer — So you’ve heard of Connor McDavid, right? The 1997-born phenom who many expect to be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft? Declan Farmer is kind of like McDavid, only 10 months younger and already reaching the pinnacle of sled hockey. Farmer first joined the national team last year and in his 25 career games in a USA jersey, he has 12 goals and 26 points. Now he’ll be on the biggest stage of his career and be looked to as a key player for Team USA. Some of his teammates have already stated Farmer is the most talented guy they’ve got. To think they found this kid in Tampa, Fla., of all places. Know this name. Farmer was born a bilateral amputee, one above the knee, one below.
Rico Roman — You’ve probably seen Roman’s face a lot as he has been in TV ads for Citi and Chobani as one of the most visible Paralympians during Olympic broadcasts. What you may not know is that Roman lost his leg in Iraq just over seven years ago and hails from Portland, Ore. He had no hockey background, but in the seven years since he lost his left leg while serving his country, Roman has reached the pinnacle of his chosen sport. He is a big part of Team USA’s all-Veteran line, nicknamed “Bravo Delta.” Roman, along with former U.S. Marines Josh Sweeney (the line’s most productive player and an alternate captain) and Paul Schaus, give the U.S. a good strong group. They are a physical group, but deadly offensively, too. Roman had his left leg amputated above the knee after he was injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq while serving in the U.S. Army. Both Sweeney and Schaus had both legs amputated after being injured by IEDs in Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. All three are Purple Heart recipients.
Andy Yohe — After taking time away from the national program between Paralympics, Yohe will serve as the team’s captain for the second straight Paralympics tournament. He had planned to retire from the team, but the competitive hunger in the 35-year-old returned. The Bettendorf, Iowa, native is on defense and has been outstanding for Team USA over his career. As the seasoned veteran, he’ll be looked to for leadership once again. Yohe lost both legs in an accident while trying to jump on a train in 1994, an incident he speaks candidly about in Ice Warriors.
Team USA Paralympic Schedule, TV Listings
Saturday, March 9 — USA vs. Italy — 7:30 a.m. ET (TeamUSA.org)
Tape Delay on NBCSN: 5:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, March 9 — USA vs. South Korea — 8:30 a.m. ET (TeamUSA.org)
Tape Delay on NBCSN: 11 p.m. ET
Tuesday, March 11 — USA vs. Russia — 8:30 a.m. ET (TeamUSA.org)
Tape Delay on NBCSN: 3 p.m. ET
NBC Sports Network will also air live each semifinal game on March 13. Those games are at 5 a.m. and noon ET.
Additionally, NBC will carry the gold-medal game on a one-hour delay at 1 p.m. ET.