The road to gold begins in HarborCenter today for the IPC Sledge Hockey World Championships. Eight teams will compete for the title, last won by Canada in 2013.
Here's what you need to get started for the event, which culminates in the gold medal game on May 3:
* The Americans are gunning for a title on home soil. Team USA is undefeated in international competition this year. When last we saw the national team, it was winning gold in Sochi in a dramatic 1-0 win over host Russia. Coach Jeff Sauer said that this American team is faster and more skilled than the one which took Sochi by storm, but the coach is still concerned about his team's ability to score goals. "They have a tendency to do what all hockey players do, they get the puck on the stick and instead of shooting right away they take that one little extra stick-handle or whatever, and all of a sudden we’ve got a black mark on the glass," Sauer said. "It may impress the girlfriend up in the stands, but from a coaching standpoint, I’d like to see them hit the net a little bit."
* While each athlete has his own story, which is he more than willing to share, sledge hockey has become more than just a feel-good inspirational tale. Thanks to the work of USA Hockey and increased media coverage, it's viewed as a sport and the participants as athletes, which in turn allows for the sport to become layered. "Obviously if you have a game out there with a bunch of beginners who are first trying sled hockey, it does become more of a feel-good moment, guys just giving it an effort as opposed to competing against each other," U.S. goaltender Steve Cash said. "I think now that the sport’s evolved into something where year after year we’re competing for a championship, you see more people grabbing on to the sport and seeing it as a competitive sport rather than recreational one."
* Earlier this week, Labatt USA (headquartered in Buffalo) announced an historic partnership with USA Hockey. The company's goal is to raise $250,000 to fund 10 adult sled hockey teams across the country. Team USA captain Josh Sweeney knows about the importance of accessibility. The Marine was doing his rehabilitation in San Antonio, Texas, home to a sled hockey program. That's where he first learned about the sport. "The accessibility is still an issue. Because unlike regular hockey or roller hockey, you can't be a disabled individual and go to any rink in the country and say, 'Hey, I'd like to try sled hockey.' You just can't do it," Sweeney said. "I was fortunate enough to be in San Antonio, Texas where there was already a team. If I hadn't gone there, who knows if I would be playing today."
* For a complete look at the schedule visit our Tournament at a Glance with history, ticket information and game times.