By Dan Hickling
Special to USAHockey.com
AMHERST, N.Y. — The phrase “a kick save and a beauty” is one of the more cherished chestnuts among puckheads.
Any goalie worth his pads has, over the course of his career, pulled off a few of those thrusting leg stops that have left fans buzzing and opposing shooters muttering.
Then there was the pad stop made by Steve Cash, a longtime mainstay in the net for the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team.
That one left everyone who saw it utterly dumbfounded.
It happened when Cash, now 24, was tending goal in a high school inline game. Cash, who lost his lower right leg to cancer at age 3, kicked his artificial leg completely off while trying to make a stop.
“Not many kids knew about my prosthetic leg,” Cash said during last week's USA Hockey Paralympic Tryout Camp in Amherst, N.Y. “But one game, my leg was a little loose. The puck had come out to my right, and I [pushed on] my leg to get there.”
Then came the kicker.
“My leg popped off,” he said, “and everyone was in shock. The whole place went silent. It’s nice to have a sense of humor about it.”
Not long after that, Cash, a native of St. Louis, took up sled hockey, and since 2005 he has been a virtual brick wall for the national team.
“He’s the best [sled] goalie in the world,” said Jeff Sauer, the U.S. coach, who saw plenty of great netminders such as Jim Carey, Mike Richter and Curtis Joseph come through his NCAA teams at Wisconsin and Colorado College.
“Goaltenders are different,” said Sauer. “They have a different personality. I can tell you stories. [But] Steve is as normal a goaltender as I've ever been around. He’s got a great glove hand, and he does a great job playing the angles. Everybody understands how important he is to us.”
Cash has led Team USA to Paralympic bronze in 2006 in Torino, gold in 2010 in Vancouver and is now hoping to lead the Americans to a successful medal defense in Sochi come next March.
“It’s a great sport,” Cash said. “Not only is it recreational, but it’s therapeutic. I love it. Hopefully I can play it for as long as I can.”
And what’s to stop him?
Not a thing, not as long as he has his keen eyes and sharp reflexes — and certainly not the loss of his leg, which didn't stop him from competing baseball and soccer as well as hockey.
“It was easy for me to cope with it,” Cash said. “That is all I've known. I grew up with a prosthetic leg, and I've never let that deter me. I've done everything I've wanted to do. I never considered it a setback.
“Playing sled hockey is a fulfillment for me. It's changed my life. I couldn’t imagine where I’d be without the sport.”
Teenager Farmer Keeps on Improving
One of the biggest splashes made at Sled Player Development Camp came from 15-year-old forward Declan Farmer, who is making his first attempt at earning a Paralympic team spot.
Farmer, who hails from Tampa, Fla., was a force all over the ice during the weeklong session and scored a superb goal during Saturday's wrap-up game that wowed the Northtown Center crowd.
“It’s been pretty fun,” said Farmer, a rabid Tampa Bay Lightning fan who was born a double-leg amputee. “There are some great players here, and this has been a good experience.”
Farmer has been playing for the past seven years, after first getting involved in a program sponsored by the Lightning.
Three years ago he began to set his sights on making the national team.
“I didn't know how I compared to some of the other players in the youth division,” he said. “But I guess I was one of the better players. So things went up from there.”
Indeed they have.
Last year, Farmer earned his place on the national team, which took silver at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee World Championship in Goyang, South Korea. He added four goals and four assists to the U.S. cause.
“You have to prove you can play with the older guys,” said Farmer. “You can't make an excuse about being younger. You have to be able to play with the top level, no matter how young you are.”
Talent Pool Runs Deep
A total of 67 players took part in Select Camp with hopes of landing a spots on the Paralympic squad.
That’s a hefty increase from the gathering of 19 hopefuls who were invited to the first camp held by USA Hockey back in 2007.
Needless to say, sled hockey is a sport on the rise. The numbers alone confirm that.
“The one thing that I've truly noticed over the last couple of years is that the bottom of the talent pool has really come up,” said Dan Brennan, general manager of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. “It’s really pushed the median player, and the elite player, as well.”
The national team that will head to Sochi in March is scheduled to be announced on Wednesday.
Crunching the Numbers
6 – number of players who attended tryouts attempting to make their third consecutive U.S. Paralympic Squad. Steve Cash, Taylor Chace, Taylor Lipsett, Tim Jones, Alexi Salamone and Andy Yohe helped Team USA to the bronze medal in Torino in 2006 and the gold medal in Vancouver in 2010.
7 – current or former members of the United States military who tried out for the U.S. Paralympic Team: Craig Brady, Jen Lee, Bo Reichenbach, Rico Roman, Paul Schaus, Josh Stein and Josh Sweeney.
3 – high schoolers that were among the final game for tryouts. Declan Farmer, Vlad Lundquist and Brody Roybal are each 15-years-old.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.