Jen Lee Trades Cash for Gold

Long-Time U.S. Sled Backup Makes The Most Of His Time In The Paralympic Spotlight
By: 
Kyle Huson

In 2006, a young sled hockey goaltender named Steve Cash represented the United States for the first time at the Paralympic Winter Games. Over the course of the next 15 years the man teammates dubbed “Cash Money” would embark on a Hall of Fame career that included eye-popping accomplishments and impressive statistics.

Along the way, Cash was joined by friend and fellow goaltender Jen Lee to form perhaps the most formidable duo in the history of sled hockey.

Hailed as the best goaltender to ever sit in a sled, when Cash was in net the chances of winning heavily favored the red, white and blue. On those rare occasions when he wasn’t in net, the U.S. performance didn’t miss much as Lee proved he was a more than capable understudy.

When Cash retired several months after winning his final Para Sled Hockey World Championship in June 2021, the understudy was thrust into the spotlight. 

“I feel very, very blessed and very honored to play with this team for the past eight or 10 seasons, I lost count” said Lee, who was introduced to sled hockey after his left leg was amputated above the knee after a motorcycle accident in 2009.

“For me, having the backup role and becoming the starter, there’s definitely a different preparation. I learned a lot from Steve on how he had to prepare himself physically and mentally.”

Head coach David Hoff believed that even before Cash retired, Lee had been improving his game to the point where there was a seamless transition when he slid between the pipes.

“I think the first thing is he got a chance to learn from the best in terms of he and Steve being such good friends and Steve being a mentor and someone for him to just watch and emulate,” Hoff said.

“The biggest thing for Jen is he just needs to be himself. There’s something about him that makes Jen really unique. He’s a competitor. He’s got to play to his strengths, and if he does that and just stays within himself and doesn’t try to do too much, he’s going to be just fine.”

Leading into the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, it was Lee’s time to shine as a starter – and did he ever. The 35-year-old, who describes himself as “35 years young,” was up to the task in leading the U.S. to its unprecedented fourth straight gold medal. In fact, Lee, who started every game, did not surrender a single goal.

Lee feels like his game has grown since he first joined the team for the 2014 Paralympics. He received advice from his former head coach, the late Jeff Sauer, that he said he didn’t understand when he was younger, but, it  eventually found its mark.

“He told me that goaltending is a position that as you grow older you become better at,” Lee recalled the iconic coach telling him. “You get a little bit better understanding of the game, about the playing style, and how you and your teammates can build off the energy of the game.”

Lee drew inspiration not only from Cash and his current teammates, but also from a cult classic Disney hockey movie.

“I’m not kidding but every time I watch The Mighty Ducks I find something different and profound in it,” Lee admitted. “It is always teaching what teamwork is, about being selfless, growing maturely with the game and understanding that it takes a whole village for everything.”

It was teamwork and selflessness that started from the net and moved out that allowed the U.S. to fire on all cylinders in Beijing. They outscored  opponents 30-1, including a dominating 5-0 performance in the gold-medal game against Canada.

Lee came up with a number of key saves early in the game to keep the Canadians from capturing the momentum. Then the offense took over and Lee made every  save the rest of the way to earn his third Paralympic gold and first as a starter.

The normally happy-go-lucky San Francisco native, who was always joking around and making his teammates laugh, was visibly emotional as fellow goaltender Griffin Lamarre placed the gold medal around his neck.

“I just feel very fortunate,” Lee said as the gold medal hung proudly around his neck. “Growing up, I wanted to be two things: an athlete and G.I. Joe. I was fortunate to be able to serve my country, and after I lost my leg I was fortunate to be an athlete and represent my country in a different way.” 

 

Kyle Huson is the manager of communications for USA Hockey.

Issue: 
2022-06

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