For Team USA’s Olympic Sled Hockey Team, the gold medal isn’t the goal.
It’s the expectation. And they are one game away for taking the top prize for the third straight time.
“For how hard we’ve been training, we don’t expect anything less,” said Brody Roybal of Northlake.
Roybal was part of the 2014 squad that won gold in Sochi. He was just 15 years old.
“Going from being in a classroom in high school, and a week later, I’m on the biggest stage for our sport – it was just an unreal feeling,” said Roybal, a West Leyden High School graduate.
Roybal is a congenital bilateral amputee, who played just about every sport growing up.
“I did skateboard. I did t-ball. I tried wheelchair basketball, wheelchair baseball. I did a little ski and snowboard,” Roybal said. “My parents always wanted me to get out in the world and try new things. They didn’t try to shelter me because I was disabled.”
The moment Roybal tried sled hockey, it stuck.
“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it’s a disabled sport. They’re going to be gentle with each other,’” Roybal said.
Sled hockey is anything but gentle.
Athletes are equipped with specially designed sleds that sit on skate blades. They’re given two hockey sticks to propel themselves on the ice. Collisions are common.
“A lot of sports aren’t this physical,” said 2014 and 2018 Paralympian Kevin McKee of Chicago.
For Josh Misiewicz of La Grange, hockey was a passion – one that he couldn’t bear giving up.
“It was one of my first thoughts that I’ll never play hockey again,” Misiewicz said.
In 2011, Misiewicz was serving in Afghanistan with the Marines, when he stepped on an IED. Misiewicz lost both legs from his injuries.
During his recovery, Misiewicz said he first heard about sled hockey.
Years later, he is headed to Pyeongchang for his first Paralympic Games.
“Without (sled hockey), I don’t know where I’d be today, honestly,” Misiewicz said.
Misiewicz has heard his teammates re-live their gold medal memories. It’s a moment he hopes to have in South Korea: to hear his anthem play and his flag fly.
“It’s an honor on two fronts,” said Misiewicz. “It’s an honor being a Marine, being an American and also being the one to get (the flag) to raise up.”
The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey team will face off against Canada in the gold medal game.