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Saturday, July 20, 2013

USA Hockey Sled Select Camp and National Team Tryouts

Remember this name: Pedro Gomez-Ramos (nick-name Chelo). We sent him to USA Hockey's 2013 Sled Select Camp this year from July 13-18 in Buffalo, NY. Pedro's first night of camp, he texted, "My body is begging for my bed." Yes, he was beat up and loving the camp.

Pedro doesn't look too bad off on his return after sled select camp.

Pedro at a tournament last December.

He was put on "Team White." For the select camp, athletes are put on teams, and since it's USA Hockey, the teams are red, white, blue, and gold. On Monday, Pedro's Team White played their first game and lost, 4-2. However, they won their second game, and lost their third game in a shootout. Through it all, Pedro was excited about his progress in developing as an athlete.

Someone made a video with photos and footage from the camp and posted it on YouTube. For some reason, it's not letting me put the video here. I'll look into why and hopefully post the video here soon. However, in the meantime, you can find the video at this link.  Pedro was wearing jersey White 8, so maybe you can spot him in some of the pictures and clips.

When it was all over, Pedro posted this status on Facebook:

Well, here I am in the airport. I'm super sore, tired, beat up, but overall, it feels good....Hopefully I can make it next year to the World Championships and in four years to the Paralympic Games!
So, Pedro has goals, but he isn't the only one on the team with goals. Nick also has similar goals, though he was too young to go to select camp this year. He hopes to make it next year. Nick works out every day trying to find one thing he can improve. He has been more determined at practices as well, and when asked, he said, "I want to impress my coach." 

Nick recently moved his blades closer together so he can turn and maneuver easier.

At a recent scrimmage against the Phoenix Coyotes, Nick gets advice from their captain. Consorting with the enemy? Naw, though they all play with passion, everyone wins when athletes improve. 

So, what is the prize these young men are gunning for?

For those who don't already know, team USA is the defending gold medalist from the Vancouver Paralympic games. Not only did the US National Team win the gold in 2010 (the only hockey gold USA won in the Vancouver games), but every single game they played was a shutout. It was an exciting time to be an American hockey fan. Now, nearly four years later, USA is hoping to defend the gold medal at the Sochi games in Russia. 

Team USA celebrating gold in Vancouver in 2010.

In the history of sled hockey (called sledge hockey in international play), only one team has won the gold medal in the Paralympics more-than once. Guess which one. I'll give you a second. Give up? It was USA, of course (gold in 2002 Salt Lake games, and 2010 Vancouver games). However, it's not as if the other countries are standing still. Canada always has a stellar team, and Russia is looking good as well. You cannot forget about Norway, a country that has won a sledge hockey medal at every single Paralympics since sledge hockey debuted in the Lillehammer Games. In fact, no team in the tournament is to be taken lightly. 

A very young Nick sports a bronze medal and his brother Steven is wearing a gold medal. Both medals were won by American sledge hockey player Dave Conklin. Conklin was on the 2002 team that won gold at the Salt Lake games, and the 2006 team that won bronze at the Torino games. This picture was snapped  the day Nick tried sled hockey for the very first time.  Now, several years later, he hopes to one day have a medal he, himself, wins as part of the US National Sled Hockey Team.
Above: a long video (it's the entire game): USA Vs. Japan gold medal game at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games.

However, it is safe to say that USA is a favorite going into the Sochi Games, and will probably present a strong team that is not unbeatable, but certainly difficult to beat.

July 19-20, USA Hockey held tryouts for the US National Team. Over sixty athletes tried out for seventeen roster spots on the National team, and seventeen roster spots on the Development team. Ten of the athletes trying out were also on the team when they won gold in Vancouver in 2010. Those athletes are goalie Steve Cash, defensemen Taylor Chace, Andy Yohe (who was captain of the team), and Nikko Landeros, and forwards Taylor Lipsett, Adam Page, Josh Pauls, Alexi Salamone, and Greg Shaw.

Players at USA Hockey tryouts for the 2013-14 National Sled Hockey Team. Sorry, I can't see the faces well enough to identify any of the athletes in the picture. 

In addition, many of the other athletes trying out have played international sledge hockey either on the US National Team or the US Development Team. For a few of them, this was their first year trying out.

Next year at tryouts, there won't be a Paralympics on the line, but our player Pedro plans to be one of the athletes trying out for one of those roster spots. Nick may also choose to try out, but he wants to wait and see how his season develops. He definitely hopes to go to sled select camp next summer to improve his game.

Both players know how difficult and special it is to make the National Team. Out of the sixty athletes trying out this year (arguably the top sixty in the nation), twenty-six will be disappointed that they did not earn a spot on either the National Team or the Development Team, and a whopping forty-three will not be on the team that goes to Sochi. It's a long road for both Pedro and Nick to be on, and there is a decent chance neither will make it. "I have to have a goal. It helps me work to get better," Nick explained.

After Sochi, the next Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and both Pedro and Nick hope to be on the National Team by then. That journey will through sled select camp, possibly trying out for the National Team and not making it, probably spending time on the Development Team, and certainly keeping eyes on the goal when the going gets tough. It will take a lot of work, a lot of determination, and some luck, but both have a chance.

"I can't tell you how good it will feel to represent my country playing a sport I love," Nick explained. "I hope I get the chance to be there. I will do everything I can do to make sure I get there."  

Nick fighting for the puck at a recent practice.

Are there any future National Team hopefuls in this group of kids? We sure hope SoCal will one day be a regular supplier of top-notch sled hockey players.

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