The year after the Paralympic Games is always one of great change. Athletes retire or take time off and new players are recruited. This year, six players are brand new to playing on the national team for us and it is always fun to watch how each of these rookies handles the pressures of being at the top level of the sport.
This won’t be their first experiences with the top team, however. Ice sledge hockey has grown exponentially over the years and after 2010, we started a development team to serve as a pool for up and coming players. Many times the national and development teams have had camps and even a tournament together to better even out the talent pool and it has worked.
This year’s try-outs were the most competitive we have ever had, at least that I have been to. There were some great games and the competition was off the charts.
Of course with a new year comes new challenges. The new players have to fit into the system that we play and build camaraderie with the returning group.
As long as I have been on the team we have been a very tight group and I do not expect it to change. Getting chemistry going between the forward lines and defensive pairs will also be a challenge, but it is one that time can solve.
The speed of the game for these rookies is a concern as well. The game moves very fast at the national level and it has always taken time for players to adjust. However, with the coaching, leadership, and skill of the players we have, we can quickly overcome this.
Despite these negatives, there are some positive aspects of having new teammates. This year, like our coach Jeff Sauer has said, our team is faster than we were a year ago. That speed was evident in our camp last weekend in Washington DC. Using our speed to our advantage, we will be a tough team to play against.
Having new players also means that there are new stories, experiences, jokes, and other fun aspects of being a team. Each new player will bring something unique to the table off the ice, and that is what makes a close knit team.
We have only just begun the trip to Buffalo 2015 and the longer journey to Pyeongchang 2018. The ups and downs that we will experience over that time will bring us closer together as a team and that much closer to our goal – gold.
The 2015 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships will take place in Buffalo, USA, from 24 April to 2 May 2015. For more information visit the official website.