Paralympic Pivot

The Road To A Fourth Paralympic Gold Featured Plenty Of Twists And Turns For Record-Setting Team
By: 
Kyle Huson

When Declan Farmer scored the golden goal at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games he not only set off a celebration among his U.S. teammates, he reset the timer on the next Paralympic cycle.

With the dream of winning three-straight gold medals realized, it was time to shift the focus to an unprecedented fourth gold medal in Beijing.

Little could they realize the massive undertaking that would be staring them in the face. From a global pandemic to missing training opportunities to pivoting on the fly, the next four years would be anything but ordinary.

When it comes to this group of dedicated athletes, there are no excuses, only opportunities to not only get better individually but to also strengthen the team bonds that were already unbreakable.

U.S. captain Josh Pauls said that one added benefit of the shifting  schedules was the fact that the team was able to establish a monthlong residency program in Nashville, something they had not done before.

“It was nice because it was really the first time that we’ve had everybody at residency,” said Pauls, who would compete on his fourth Paralympic team. “It was kind of a bubble environment for six weeks and we got to know each other and train hard and have fun before coming over here.”

“We were lucky with the amount we actually got to train [in Nashville],” added Brody Roybal, one of the first players to spur the mass migration to Music City. “We were on the ice four hours every single day pretty much. So I think that’s what set us apart from the rest.”

"We are never satisfied. We just love competing. It’s not even solely about winning medals, we just love to compete and play hockey.”

DECLAN FARMER

The bonds formed in the locker room and away from the rink spilled over onto the ice. Far from the scrutiny of the coaching staff, players took it upon themselves to set up additional training programs to make sure every Paralympic newcomer and veteran was operating at a peak level by the time the puck dropped in Beijing.

“What it really came down to was our dedication and our training,” Pauls said. “We have guys that are willing to put the work in from the top to bottom of our lineup. I mean, Declan was one of the guys helping to organize aspects of our residency program in Nashville, and that really helped set the tone for how hard we needed to work in order to be successful.”

The result was another dominant performance on the world stage. The U.S. outscored its opponents by a 30-1 count over the course of four games, including shutting out the silver medalists from Canada, by a combined score of 10-0 in their two matchups.

Farmer, the now all-time U.S. leader in points and assists at the Paralympics, reflected after the gold-medal game on the events of the last four years and how they helped fuel not only himself but the team.

“We are never satisfied. We just love competing. It’s not even solely about winning medals, we just love to compete and play hockey,” said the Tampa, Fla., native, who padded his resume with a tournament-leading 18 points to give him 40 in three Paralympic appearances.

“Maybe not having as many games over the last few years made us hungrier for the ones that count.”

Throughout the course of the four years, head coach David Hoff wanted the team to focus on the process rather than the results. That was one of the reasons why the team was able to stay in the moment and not get caught up in looking too far ahead.

“The focus had to be on the short term, the work that we did every day preparing for practice,” Hoff said. “That was the message throughout the whole season. ‘What do I have to do to get my game individually to where I want it to be and where do we want it to be collectively as a team?’”

Every Paralympic cycle feels like an eternity when staring at a four-year calendar. Given the events of the world, this cycle felt even longer. Still, this team was able to take it one day at a time and they ultimately accomplished what they set out to do. 

When the gold medals were paraded out to center ice at the National Indoor Stadium, what has become a new custom in international competition of players presenting medals to their teammates was particularly fitting for this tightknit group. They faced the challenges, endured the daily struggles and accomplished their goal the way they do everything else. They did it together.

“It’s pretty incredible, especially the way this team has battled and really grew over the course of not only this year, but the last four years,” Pauls said. “I’m just so thankful to have my brothers here with me to experience it.” 

Kyle Huson is the manager of digital content for USA Hockey. 

Issue: 
2022-04

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