Rampage Sled Hockey Team Produces Elite Talent and Strong BondsJul 31, 2019
There are a few more accolades on the ice for San Antonio athletes this summer. After 11 Rampage alumni contributed to a Blues Stanley Cup, and Niko Mikkola grabbed gold with Team Finland at the World Championships, several members of the San Antonio Rampage sled hockey team have earned national recognition and international hardware.
In early July, four members of the Rampage club- goaltender Jen Lee and forwards Rico Roman, Josh Hargis, and Luke McDermott- were again named to the US National Sled Hockey Team for the 2019-20 season.
These four are already well-decorated on the international stage. All four were on the US team that won gold in May at the World Sled Hockey Championship, a 3-2 overtime win over Canada in the gold medal game. For Hargis, it was his first medal with the team after joining for the 2018-19 season. McDermott, in his fifth season with the national squad, had four points in five games to add a second World Championship gold to his 2018 Paralympic gold medal at Pyeongchang.
Roman and Lee have even less space in their trophy cases. Both have two gold medals from both the Paralympics (2014, 2018) and the World Championship (2012, 2019).
Roman, 38, is the longest-tenured team member among the Rampage contingent, and one of the longer-tenured players on the team overall. In addition to his four gold medals, he has two more silver medals from the Worlds and played in eight Para Hockey Cups.
A US military veteran, Roman was wounded by a roadside bomb in 2007. The injury resulted in an amputation of his left leg. Sled hockey was not on Roman’s radar when he began his rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center.
“I was approached by Chris Leverkuhn and Operation Comfort and asked to do a 150-mile bike ride from San Antonio to Corpus Christi. I told them no thank you,” laughed Roman.
After some convincing, Roman agreed to do the bike ride with a handcycle and enjoyed it. Leverkhun, who runs the Rampage sled hockey team and plays for the squad, then approached him about strapping on a sled, and Roman again politely declined.
“I didn’t grow up in a hockey state and had no hockey background,” said Roman, originally from Portland, Oregon. “I told them no again a bunch of times until I finally went out and tried it. I was hooked.”
Joining the San Antonio Rampage club team, a team composed of other wounded warriors has been a pretty successful step for plenty of players chasing a Paralympic dream. In addition to his three current teammates, Roman has also been on Paralympic teams with Rampage alum Josh Sweeney, who scored the ‘golden goal’ in the 2014 Paralympic Games at Sochi. Over the years, Rampage players have also benefited from the coaching of another Paralympic great, Lonnie Hanna.
“Me and Luke have been on the same line the last couple season. It’s pretty incredible with one team producing that many players for the national team. Everybody that’s been there has put in the work to play at that level,” said Roman.
Despite not growing up with hockey, Roman took to it quickly to become one of the best players in the world.
“I enjoyed the physicality. And with anything we do with guys on a military team, we don’t like losing,” said Roman. “When we first started out we were getting torn up and losing every game. We just got sick of it and started putting more time into it and got better. Now, this Rampage team has put four or five guys on the national team.”
That improvement came after a lot of training, both on and off the ice. For Roman, that includes at least three days a week on the ice, at least three in the gym lifting, and cross-training with wheelchair basketball, ski-erg, rowing, and upright biking and hand cycling.
All the time dedicated to training and competing, while also balancing their day jobs, can make maintaining a work-life balance a challenge for the players. That’s why making the Paralympic Games is the pinnacle for players, not just as athletes but as family men.
“I’ve been able to take my family to both Paralympic Games, and that’s the payoff for me being gone and missing things, and training so much. I get to take them to the Games, and that’s why I work so hard.”
And while the medals and accolades are special, the sled hockey community offers players so much more.
“The team is so much fun with the brotherhood and the comradery. I lost that instantly being injured and separated from by platoon in the military,” said Roman. “That team gave me that back.”
That bond means a lot to all soldiers who play the game, not just the Paralympians. Roman credits the Operation Comfort program, led by Janis Roznowski, for offering an outlet to all wounded servicemen and women, whether they are on the Rampage team or not.
“[Janis] has put five guys on the National Team and one on the development team. And she’s had so many others come through her camp. She’s taken guys for her hockey camps that have tried out and might not have made the team, and these are guys coming back with pretty serious injuries. They go from not saying anything or talking or smiling, having no reactions, to smiling at one practice and then the saying hi at the next, and the next they have more emotion. I’ve seen that with two guys in this program and to me it’s amazing.”
“The medals are great but how many people has she affected in a great way that have not made this team? I’ve seen all the guys she has helped along the way in such a positive way. Having this outlet for guys is huge.”
It’s that bond among the players and the success they have together that make Rampage sled hockey players come back for more. And it keeps a select group on the path towards another Paralympic medal.
“I didn’t plan on playing anymore after 2018, but one of my teammates talked me into it. And here we are!”