Sled hockey players makes women’s U.S. national team
by Kyle Coppa-Cross , Florida Today
Karina Villegas has a knack for sled hockey. In early December she competed in the Ice Sports Forum in Tampa for the first time as a member of the USA Women’s national sled hockey team.
Villegas, a member of the Space Coast Hurricanes, a sled hockey team based at Space Coast Iceplex in Rockledge, has worked hard to get her chance to be on the national team.
“After my first season with Hurricanes last year, I tried out for the national team,” the Sebastian resident said. “I didn’t make it but I made the first ever development team. Then this past August I tried out again and it happened.”
The Ice Sports Forum took place the weekend of Dec. 10-11. Team USA played one game each day with the intention of getting the women’s team ready for international competition.
The Team USA women faced off against the Florida Bandits, an elite sled hocking team comprised of the best players in Florida, which is coached by Ron Rubichaud.
Two-time paralympic medalist, Greg Shaw, was captain of the Bandits. The game was a fierce competition.
“We crushed the men,” Villegas said. “I scored my first goal as a national team member.”
Six of the players for the Bandits are from the local Space Coast Hurricanes, two of which are women who are also on Team USA.
The USA Women’s team plays the Florida Bandits once a year in December, but the teams have met once a month to practice.
Being a member of three separate teams can feel daunting, but Villegas knows her priorities.
“USA commitments are a priority over the Florida Bandits, and my commitments with the Bandits are priority over the Space Coast Hurricanes,” Villegas said.
The USA Women’s National Team will meet once a month in a different state to compete one-on-one against the elite team of that state.
“The teams are made of all men, so this is a lot of fun,” Villegas said.
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For the remainder of the 2016-17 season, Villegas and the women’s team will be playing: the Connecticut team at their home arena on Jan. 27-29; Phoenix and the Arizona Sled team Feb. 17-19; Charlotte from March 23-26 for a weekend with USA Hockey’s development team; and they will finish the season with the Wounded Warriors in Philadelphia from May 5-7.
Playing as a member of the Team USA has been fantastic for Villegas.
“I don’t even have the right words to express it. It’s indescribable, we are a very unique team,” Villegas said. “To be playing with this team on my third season playing sled hockey makes me a very happy and privileged woman, especially in these days when there is so much heaviness in the world against women. Truly an honor to represent this country.”
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