Pitt student heads to Sochi to compete in Paralympics next month

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University of Pittsburgh student Daniel McCoy, 20, of Cheswick will be one of 17 Americans with physical disabilities to compete next month for medals in sled hockey in the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Sled (or sledge) hockey was first featured at the games in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, the first time the Paralympic Winter Games were held in the same location as the Winter Olympics.

'Ice Warriors'
When: 10 tonight on WQED-TV.
About: A documentary about the U.S. sled hockey team that will compete in the Winter Paralympic Games in March in Russia.

Sled hockey, like ice hockey, is played with six players (on the ice at a time) in a regulation Olympic size rink. Games consist of three 15-minute periods.

The sleds are mounted on two hockey skate blades. Players have two hockey sticks instead of one. There are metal picks on one end so players can propel themselves around the rink.

Mr. McCoy, then 17, was the youngest player on the USA National Sled Hockey team that won a bronze medal at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge in 2011. A forward, Mr. McCoy scored three goals and had an assist in the five games in that tournament.

Eight players return from the team that won a gold medal at the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010. Players must requalify for the team each year. Although 17 players made the team, only 15 can dress for games.

Four of those new to the team are military veterans. Defenseman Rico Roman, a former Army sergeant, had his left leg amputated after being wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq. Former Marines Paul Schaus, a forward, and Josh Sweeney, also a forward, had legs amputated after being wounded by IEDs in Afghanistan. Goalie Jen Lee, who is still a sergeant in the Army on active duty, had his left leg amputated after being injured in a motorcycle accident.

The youngest member of the team is Brody Roybal, 15, of Northlake, Ill. He was born without legs and began playing sled hockey at age 6. The oldest is defenseman and team captain Andy Yohe, 35, of Bettendorf, Iowa, who lost both legs in an accident in 1994.

Mr. McCoy was born with spina bifida.

"I walk with leg braces," he said. "I have a wheelchair for really long distances."

A sophomore at Pitt, Mr. McCoy is majoring in rehabilitation science.

He began playing sled hockey at age 5.

"I played every sport out there pretty much," he said. "I used to play lacrosse in middle school." Since making the U.S. team, he has focused exclusively on sled hockey.

The sled hockey games will be played March 7-16 in the Shayba Arena. The U.S. team is scheduled to play Italy, Russia and South Korea in the round robin. If successful, it'll be on to the semifinals and then the finals.

Mr. McCoy is excited to be playing in the Paralympics. His parents, grandfather, brother and "a couple of friends from high school" will be in Sochi to cheer him on.

"It's been a wild ride," he said.

WQED-TV will broadcast the documentary "Ice Warriors," about the U.S. team, at 10 p.m. today.

Jack Kelly: jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.

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