Declan Farmer’s Leadership, Talent Evident In U.S. Sled Hockey Opener
by Stuart Lieberman
Declan Farmer participates in a training session ahead of the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 3, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING — At his Paralympic Winter Games debut in 2014, Declan Farmer was often nervous, his hands shaking and sweaty at times when chatting with others about his play on the ice. The U.S. sled hockey forward was only 16 then and in his second year on the national team, yet he still racked up three goals and an assist in Sochi on his way to winning an ESPY for Best Male Athlete with a Disability.
Eight years later, a different Farmer has showed up in Beijing as the alternate captain. He holds his head up high as he purposely makes direct eye contact with everyone he speaks to. Professional and poised, he emulates everything a leader should be.
“I think back to Sochi and the older guys on that team, and they were my age now,” he said. “In Sochi, Brody (Roybal) and I were the young guys by quite a few years, and now that I’ve been a part of this group for a long time, I’ve picked up more of a leadership role. I was in Nashville the last couple of years with many of these guys training and took charge of a lot of the training there without any coaches, which gave me more confidence in being a leader of this team.”
The top-ranked U.S. sled hockey team opened Paralympic play in Beijing on Saturday with a 5-0 thrashing of second-seeded Canada, With a goal and three assists in the game, Farmer surpassed Joe Howard as the U.S. all-time Paralympic points leader with 26 career points.
“I first got into the sport in 2010 — now Josh Pauls is the only guy left from that gold-medal winning team — and got close to a lot of those guys such as Taylor Lipsett, Steve Cash and Taylor Chace, so there have been great players over the years,” Farmer said. “This is a testament to even how much better our team has gotten, as you can’t put up points without a really good supporting cast. I’m sure that record will be broken many times over the years.”
Declan Farmer plays during the sled hockey preliminary round match against Team Canada during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 5, 2022 in Beijing.
Farmer’s career on the national team dates back more than a decade and includes four Paralympic and six world championship appearances. With the Tampa, Floridian on the roster, the U.S. has finished atop the Paralympic podium every time and has not finished lower than second at any world championships.
Farmer has also become Mr. Clutch for Team USA. At PyeongChang 2018, he tied the U.S. and Paralympic record for most goals at one Games (11) and scored both the tying goal, with 37 seconds left in regulation, and game-winning gold in overtime to defeat Canada in the gold-medal contest. He was also named Player of the Game in both of the last two world championships gold-medal matches, securing the game-tying goal in 2019 to force an overtime period again against Canada.
“He’s very fun to watch, especially when you are wearing the same color as him,” said U.S. head coach David Hoff. “Declan is our leader in just the way he plays, in terms of the grittiness, the toughness, and never letting guys down. That’s what he’s all about.”
Since graduating from Princeton University in 2020 with a degree in economics, sled hockey has become Farmer’s full-time job, and it is certainly showing. After one game in Beijing the 25-year-old bilateral amputee, who has been using prosthetics since he was 1 year old, is already only one point short of the point total he recorded in Sochi.
Despite being self-critical of his defensive play in the neutral zone, Farmer proved on Saturday that he is a rock when it comes to key games, specifically matchups against Canada.
And he’s still surprising even himself.
“We definitely didn’t expect a game like this,” Farmer said. “Canada splits games with us all the time, that’s why it’s a good rivalry. We got a lot of good bounces today, got some saves and were able to bury the puck well.
“This was a long time coming, and a long residency program training for this competition. We’ve had a lot of games cancelled throughout the year, so a lot of guys were itching to get on the ice and get that first game in. Now that that’s behind us, we’re just rolling forward.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Beijing 2022? Visit TeamUSA.org/Beijing-2022-Paralympic-Games to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.
Stuart Lieberman has covered Paralympic sports for more than 10 years, including for the International Paralympic Committee at the London 2012, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.