PyeongChang 2018: The fairytale finish

Declan Farmer on USA’s thrilling Para ice hockey triumph 18 Mar 2019
By Amp Media | For World Para Ice Hockey

“It really did wonders for the sport in the US and in the world. I know that NBC’s TV ratings were off the charts, way better than they expected. So I think that people in the US and around the world are really starting to pick up sled hockey as a passion.”

It is exactly one year since Declan Farmer turned the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Para ice hockey final around in the dying seconds. The forward equalised with 37 seconds remaining of USA’s gold medal match against Canada, then scored the overtime goal to clinch the Paralympic title.

“It is pretty crazy. It doesn’t feel like a year ago, it feels like the other week, really. You can’t really write it up better than that,” Farmer said.

“It really did wonders for the sport in the US and in the world. I know that NBC’s TV ratings were off the charts, way better than they expected. So I think that people in the US and around the world are really starting to pick up sled hockey as a passion.”

The tough competition from Canada motivates the triple world championship finalist to keep chasing trophies.

“You can never really get enough of winning, no matter what you do,” he said.

“How close Canada were last year made us realise it could’ve easily been us losing. So we have to appreciate what happened and realise that it’s going to take even more work to make it happen again because Canada is naturally going to be driven to work even harder than we are given that they haven’t won anything in a while.”

Student to star

Born a bilateral amputee, Farmer picked up Para ice hockey aged nine. At 16, he won gold with the USA in his Paralympic debut and was voted the International Paralympic Committee’s Best Male Athlete at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games.

The two-time Paralympic champion has become one of the world’s best players despite not having trained with a club team for the past three years.

“It’s pretty unusual actually, I think there’s maybe three-four of us in the whole national team who don’t play regularly in a club,” the 21-year-old forward said.

“That’s because we’re students. There’s no club team close to me and I don’t have a car so I can’t drive anywhere when I’m at school. And it’s busy enough with the national team.”

Instead of playing in a club, the third-year economics student at Princeton University in New Jersey works on specific details in training sessions alone or with USA teammate Jack Wallace.

“Every off-season we all try to evaluate ourselves,” Farmer said. “I like to re-watch all the tapes from previous years and see some skills that I could improve to help my game or look at what other talented players do and maybe try to practise their skills.

“We’ve been focusing on explosive skating and doing that with the puck, because that is obviously very hard in sled hockey (Para ice hockey) where you have to use your hands for everything.”

Going for gold

The breaks from playing matches also make him extra hungry for goals and glory when the national team gathers and big titles are at stake.

“I think just taking some time off every now and then gives you time to really appreciate the game for what it is.

“You don’t want to get burned out physically and mentally and now we have had a solid three months leading up to the Worlds so I’m really excited about that.”

Even though his focus is on the Worlds, which begin in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on 27 April, Farmer has already started to dream about a third consecutive Paralympic gold medal that would be USA’s fourth since Vancouver 2010.

“This season, the mission is to win gold but everyone’s obviously looking ahead to Beijing [2022 Paralympic Winter Games] in the back of their mind,” he said.

Graduating in June 2020, Farmer will put his civil career on ice as he plans to prepare full-time to go for triple gold.

“I’ve always had to balance it with school so I’m really excited to take one or two years to just train and get ready for Beijing,” he said.