They sit when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played, and then they go and play their hearts out for America, turning the catastrophes that took away their legs into conquests.
They are the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, which spent three days last week at Goleta’s Ice in Paradise, displaying their mastery of a challenging sport.
“It’s super hard,” said defenseman Nikko Landeros. “You need to keep your balance and control the puck while skating, and you pass and shoot with both hands.”
Without legs to propel them, the players sit on sleds and push themselves with their sticks, which have metal picks at one end and blades for handling the puck at the other end. The double-duty sticks require an extra dimension of skill.
Landeros was a wrestler and football player at Berthoud High in Colorado. On a snowy night 10 years ago, he and fellow wrestler Tyler Carron stopped to change a flat tire on a narrow road. “We were in the back of the car getting our tools out,” Landeros said, “and a classmate ran us over us at 48 miles per hour.” Their legs, crushed against their vehicle, were subsequently amputated.
Landeros and Carron both adapted to prosthetic legs, but they found their sporting bliss in sled hockey, where players without legs have an advantage because they can turn and maneuver more nimbly on the ice.
“Playing hockey means everything in the world to us,” Landeros said.
Some of the U.S. players, such as Brody Roybal, were born without normal legs. Several others had their legs blown away in military incidents.
“I stepped on an IED [improvised explosive device] in Afghanistan,” said goaltender Bo Reichenbach, a U.S. Navy SEAL who had both his legs amputated. Suffering the same fate was forward Luke McDermott, a marine injured on his second tour of duty. Rico Roman, another forward on the team, had his left leg amputated after an IED blast while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Team U.S.A.’s presence at Ice in Paradise was its final training camp in preparation for the 2017 International Paralympic Committee Sled Hockey World Championship that will take place April 11-20 in Gangneung, South Korea.
Perhaps UConn women’s basketball and the Harlem Globetrotters have a record of success to rival this hockey team’s. Since winning the gold medal in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games at Sochi, Russia, the Americans have won five more international tournaments, including the last IPC World Championship, staged in Buffalo, New York, in 2015.
Ice in Paradise, which opened in fall 2015, was designed to provide full access to people with disabilities. Larry Bruyere, manager of the Goleta facility, said the U.S. team was invited here with the idea of spurring interest in sled hockey.
“It’s one of our favorite places so far,” Reichenbach said at the end of the team’s busy schedule of five practice sessions. It afforded the players — almost all of them from the Midwest and Northeast — little time to enjoy the California weather. “We went by the beach,” Reichenbach said. “We looked at it real quick.”
The team was the attraction for several dozen spectators who came to watch the sledders race up and down the ice, often colliding shoulder-to-shoulder while the pucks banged around the NHL-sized rink. The final session ended with the players taking shots one-on-one against goalkeepers Reichenbach and Steve Cash.
Head coach Guy Gosselin, a Minnesotan who played on the U.S. Olympic teams in 1988 and ’92, presided over the activities. The shootout ended with the traditional awarding of the game ball — a Cheesehead Nerf football with the scores of international matches written on it — to the best performers of the day. This time, it was the goalkeepers, as Reichenbach let out a joyous whoop.
Santa Barbara surfing star Lakey Peterson got the 2017 World Tour off to a great start by finishing runner-up in the Roxy Pro in Gold Coast, Australia. The 22-year-old Peterson worked hard to rebound from a broken ankle that set her back last year. Early in the season-opening contest, she racked up a perfect 10 and a nine-plus in what was hailed as one of the most spectacular heats in women’s pro surfing. Stephanie Gilmore of Australia bested her in the final.