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Team USA women's sled hockey takes on the Phoenix Coyotes sled hockey team

Online Exclusive posted Thursday, February 23, 2017

By Courtney Verrill

It was a weekend full of competition, aggression and checking men twice their size for Team USA women’s sled hockey. Team USA spent its weekend in Scottsdale, Ariz., battling the Phoenix Coyotes sled hockey team. This was Team USA’s first time playing together in three weeks which stirred up some struggle on the first day, but once the women found their rhythm they were a force to be reckoned with. Both teams racked up one win from the competitive weekend.

The Coyotes may be a team with mostly all men, but that didn’t stop the women from checking the opposing team as they tried to score as many goals as they could.

“I think it is [intimidating] playing against guys at first, but then you kind of learn that it makes you better and you can keep up with them,” says Team USA defense Hannah Hughes.

Sled hockey is a very aggressive sport where the players check each other left and right. They slam into walls, fall over, and crash into the opposing team to gain control of the puck. The athletes of Team USA want everyone to know that they’re anything but frail.

“A lot of people think that because you’re disabled you’re frail and everybody should take it easy on you, but that is not the picture on the ice,” Team USA goalie Gabariel Graves-Wake says. “We’re out there and we’re slamming people and running into things. We’re not frail, and we’re not easily broken. We can take a hit and throw one just as hard.”

Although the Coyotes won 5-4 on Feb. 18, Team USA still put up a fight. The game was tied up until the last three minutes when the Coyotes Matt France scored the game-winning goal with an assist from Richard Alcaraz.

“It is always so much fun to play Team USA every year,” says Coyotes Guido Schmid. “They are a fair team, they have a lot of speed and chemistry, the are good and they really challenge us.”

Team USA found its rhythm on Feb. 19 and bounced back from their loss with an 8-6 victory over the Coyotes. Within the first two minutes of the game, Team USA forward Kelsey DiClaudio scored a goal that set the pace of the game. DiClaudio tallied up a total of four goals, making her the leading scorer of Sunday’s game. The rest of game was intense as the score jumped around with each team taking turns with the lead.

“I think [today] we were able to pick up on what we missed yesterday and learn from that, and going in today we knew what we needed to work on,” Hughes says.

Each team has athletes from different backgrounds and injury levels, but that is not what’s important. The athletes don’t focus on their disabilities. Their focus is to come together as a team, fight for the win and leave the ice feeling good.

“It doesn’t matter what your disability is,” says Coyotes goalie Lidia Lopez. “We put it all on the ice.”