Winning Never Gets Old

Jen Lee and U.S. National Sled Hockey Team Win Unprecedented Third Consecutive World Championship Gold Medal

Jen Lee looked around at his teammates franticly celebrating inside the Moose Jaw Events Centre and he couldn’t help but smile. 

The goaltender has witnessed plenty of these golden moments in his 10 years with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. 

 

Yes, the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team made history at the 2023 World Para Ice Hockey Championship in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, by winning an unprecedented third straight World Championship gold medal, capping off an undefeated season (18-0), but it is the culture that Lee sees as the biggest component fueling the United States six World Championships in program history.

“We’ve been a very successful program for the last few years now,” Lee said. “That winning standard is there. But success isn’t just based on winning. It’s about the improvement of us as a team and how we grow as a team.”

That growth takes place not only on the ice, but off the ice as well, Lee explained. 

“You see a year-one player and you want to help them grow not just as a hockey player, but off the ice too,” Lee said. “I was able to skate with first-year guys like Ben Musselman and Brett Bolton and some other guys too, and I can see the growth from day one in Bridgewater (at the Para Hockey Cup) in November to now at the World Championship. Our group welcomed those guys in with open arms and took them under our wings and showed them the ropes, whether it’s playing or showing them the expectations off the ice too.” 

The U.S. National Sled Hockey Team’s diverse roster helps create a dynamic culture too. Players range in age from 17 to 38 and are from 11 different states. This has created a locker room of different voices and people who have gone through various life experiences.

Despite the differences, the player’s togetherness, and willingness to always put the team first, is unmatched. 

“Coach mentioned after the (gold medal) game that even though everyone on the team comes from different backgrounds and places, everyone welcomes that,” said Lee.

The team comradery and brotherhood is built off the ice just as much as it is on the ice.

“Each tournament we go to, we have different favorite moments,” Lee said. “But every tournament, when we find a local coffee shop, we can just hang out there get away from the rink as a team. That’s really cool. The team comes together, has a cup of coffee and shares a laugh. It’s just important that we can experience things together. Nobody gets left out, everyone gets included. That’s important.”

As great as those moments are away from the rink with teammates, the standard must be set on the ice to make that possible. 

“That winning standard is there. But success isn’t just based on winning. It’s about the improvement of us as a team and how we grow as a team.” 

Lee, who has morphed from a young, up-and-coming goaltender to a leader and established star player, explained it’s important to set the tone. 

“Even the guys that don’t wear the C or the A, they lead by example, and they put in the work, which allows the hockey to take care of itself,” Lee said. “If you do that, then lets enjoy the downtime and the comradery of doing team activities.”

As a goaltender for the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, the value of leadership and teamwork is nothing new to Lee, who learned behind U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame netminder Steve Cash from 2010-2021. 

“The brotherhood is there,” Lee said. “Especially as sled goaltenders, it’s a small community. Me and Stevie, I looked up to him. He was the one who mentored me about the game, and I learned from him and how he paved the way with his standards, not just on the ice but off the ice as well in his character.”

Lee was 24 years old when he joined the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. The current 37-year-old has now become a mentor for fellow goalie and 26-year-old Griffin LaMarre.

“It’s like a brand-new relationship,” Lee said. “Now I’m the guy who kind of shows him the ropes, and he’s the newer guy, so you definitely play the big brother, little brother role now. But we also learn from each other, and he’s become a really good friend because of the chemistry we have. We’re open about anything with our game skills, techniques and as a person off the ice.” 

The legacy of the U.S National Sled Hockey Team and its winning culture can be summed up nicely with the mantra that was repeated by coaches and players throughout the U.S. locker room and the hallways of the Moose Jaw Events Centre in the moments after capturing gold: 

“Winning never gets old.” 

Issue: 
2023-06

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Auston Matthews
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