It All Comes Down To This: U.S. Sled Hockey Preps For Another Final Vs. Canada
by Stuart Lieberman
The U.S. sled hockey team huddles up before their semifinal match against Team China at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 11, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING – Eleven of the 17 members of the U.S. sled hockey team have been here before, competing at a Paralympic Winter Games. And those 11 players have never left the Games as anything but gold medalists.
Winning is all they know, and it’s what they’ve been training for these past four years.
So when the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 wrap up on Sunday, those 11 guys and their six rookie teammates fully expect to be heading home with Paralympic gold medals around their necks.
To make that happen they’ll have to get past archrival Canada in the gold-medal contest at the National Indoor Stadium. Opening faceoff is set for just after 11 p.m. ET on Saturday.
“We are ready to go,” Team USA’s Brody Roybal said.
As the three-time defending Paralympic gold medalists and two-time defending world champs, the Americans come into the final as favorites.
Team captain Josh Pauls, a three-time Paralympic champion and the lone holdover from the Vancouver 2010 squad, knows not to get complacent as the U.S. goes for a record-extending fourth consecutive and fifth overall title.
The U.S. has faced Japan, Russia and Canada in the past three Paralympic gold-medal games, and the last two were decided by one goal.
“I’ve learned anything can happen,” Pauls said of the past gold-medal games. “They’ve all been very unique and different, but I’ve learned the nerves don’t go away. You definitely still get the butterflies in your stomach — both excited and anxious to play — as it’s the most intense hockey I’ve ever played.”
The U.S. remains the only undefeated team left in the tournament in Beijing, where it has outscored its opponents, 25-1, including an 11-0 shelling of China in the semifinal and a 5-0 win over Canada in the preliminary round. However, the U.S. comes into the championship having played just three games so far in Beijing. A third preliminary round game was wiped out after RPC athletes were denied participation by the International Paralympic Committee.
The Americans have made the most of their opportunities.
Playing in his third Paralympics at just 24, Declan Farmer is leading all scorers at the tournament with 15 points, including 10 assists. Within the past week the Tampa, Florida, native has broken the records for most career Paralympic points and assists by a U.S. player. Yet when asked about his feats he remains humble, crediting his entire team.
Declan Farmer competes during the semifinal match against Team China at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 11, 2022 in Beijing.
“Everyone chips in in their own way,” said the Princeton University graduate. “We’ve been able to build chemistry with everyone on the team over the years, and that’s been great.
“We’re trying to focus on being the best version of ourselves in the final. Anything can happen. It’s a quick game. A lot of random bounces could play into it, and we’ve just got to skate through it if things don’t go our way early on.”
The other half of Team USA’s dynamic duo at forward, 23-year-old Roybal, has a tournament-leading six goals in Beijing and will eagerly shout out Farmer as a driving key to his success.
“The kid always shocks the world,” said Roybal, a Chicago native who also made his Paralympic debut in 2014 as a teenager. “It’s always a great time playing with Declan. He’s an incredible player. He’s just so smart out on the ice and he creates incredible opportunities for whomever is out there playing with him.”
Other standouts on the squad in Beijing include former U.S. Marine Josh Misiewicz, who has four goals and six assists, and 19-year-old Malik Jones, who has four goals and an assist. Jen Lee, in his third Paralympics but first as the starting goaltender, has recorded 17 saves and two shutouts, playing all but one period for the Americans.
The U.S. and Canada are no strangers to each other in big moments, including the last five world championships finals — with Team USA winning three of them, including the two most recent tournaments in 2019 and 2021.
At the Paralympics, the rivals have met five times previously, including in the 2018 gold-medal game. Last time around, Farmer played the role of the hero twice in the final. First, with the U.S. down by one, he scored with 37.8 seconds left in regulation off a pass from Roybal to force a sudden-death overtime period. Then, 3:30 into overtime, he sliced the puck between two defenders and into the net for the victory.
Earlier this season, the teams split a two-game series in October, with the U.S. falling, 4-2, before bouncing back to win the second game, 4-1. Both games, as they always are, were physical on both ends.
“It’s North American hockey. We like to play physical. It is not just a finesse game,” said defenseman Ralph DeQuebec, a two-time Paralympian. “All of us can play at a high physical pace, and it wears down teams. You get to the third period and get a body on them and it slows them down.”
With a 4-0-1 mark, the U.S. has never dropped a game to Canada at the Paralympics, having outscored its neighbors to the north by a 16-3 margin. This will be only the second time they have faced each other in the final.
“It’s 45 minutes of hockey, anything can happen,” Farmer said. “We’ve just got to trust our training, our process. We’ve been working really hard all season really, gearing up for this game.”
The gold-medal final will be televised live in the U.S. on USA Network and Peacock; it will be followed by a televised encore performance on Sunday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET on both networks.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Winter 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.