USA Deck Hockey Team Takes Silver
Stow/Nashoba players compete
By Ellen Oliver
The men’s USA ball hockey team competed in the 2013 World Ball Hockey Federation Championships in Toronto Canada, June 3-9 and took home a silver medal for their efforts. The team had ties to the Nashoba community uniting Steve Kendall, teacher and coach at Nashoba, Matt Gilchrest, a 2007 graduate of Nashoba and current Clinton resident, and Stow’s own Luke Jones, local business owner and 2003 Nashoba graduate.
Ball hockey, called deck hockey in the United States, is a non-ice version of ice hockey and the rules are similar to its icy cousin. “There’s some contact,” explained Kendall. “You can play the body, but you can’t do too much.” The teams also play on larger rinks in Canada, while in the US the surfaces cover a smaller area. “Our first game was almost a shock, there was so much room,” said Gilchrest.
Jones, Kendall, and Gilchrest all play on teams locally, but for the biannual tourney they were pulled together to form team USA. Of the 22 players on Team USA, 14 were from the Central Mass area. “Being able to go is a big part,” said Kendall. “It’s not easy to ask to take a week off to play deck hockey.”
During the week of play, Team USA faced four teams to make the playoffs, defeating teams from Portugal, Great Britain, Italy and Slovenia. In the playoffs, their first opponent was Pakistan, then they defeated Portugal in overtime before heading to the final round against Team Canada. “We fell behind early in that game and made some mistakes,” explained Kendall. “It’s tough on your psyche to dig out when you’re behind.” Team USA lost 7-1 to Team Canada in the gold medal round and were awarded the silver medal.
The silver medal was still a reason to celebrate since it was the first time USA had ever medaled in the tournament. The women’s USA team also medaled for the first time, taking bronze in double overtime over Great Britain.
Jones, Gilchrest, and Kendall are happy with their accomplishment, although they wished they had played better in the final round. “Team Canada was big and strong with many of the players coming off a season of ice hockey. Our guys all work other jobs,” said Kendall. “It was an unbelievable experience, other than the game against Canada,” said Gilchrest. “We didn’t play our best in that game.”
Kendall explained that in Canada, ball hockey is the off season sport for many of the ice hockey players. Many names familiar in the NHL spend their off season on ball hockey teams. Kendall has played against current and former NHL players, including Chicago Blackhawks’ Andrew Shaw. “Ball hockey is what they do in the summer. They golf and play ball hockey,” he said.
Even though the tournament has an international title and flair, many of the players live in Canada and play on teams through ancestry, not citizenship. Gilchrest said every game felt like a home game for the other team. “The majority of those players are Canadian and live there. Everyone was cheering against us,” he said.
For Gilchrest the back and forth playoff game against Portugal was a highlight. “The semi-final went into overtime. Steve scored the winning goal in overtime. He picked it out of the air and shot it in,” he said.
Kendall was named defensive MVP and made the tournament’s all-star team, a feat he credits to his defensive partner Jones. “I don’t get that without Luke,” he said. “I don’t get that without someone who allowed me to be so good.” Kendall is the veteran of the international tournament, he’s been to the tournament three other times, including a trip to Slovenia.
While Team USA was making its way through the ball hockey schedule, the Nashoba girls’ softball team was on its own playoff run. Kendall, who in addition to being an English teacher at Nashoba also coaches boys’ ice hockey and softball, drove back from the tournament to coach a softball game.
With only one game each day, the players had time to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, watch the Team USA women’s games, and catch a few important ice hockey games. “We got together as a team and watched the Bruins. It was really nice to be with these guys,” said Gilchrest.