The Chemistry of Team USA Ball Hockey
The tournament may end, but the bond never goes away. After 12 days and countless hours together on and off the rink, a new family is born. Sure, there’ll be good and bad times, but it’s how you embrace and overcome those as a team that brings you all closer together. The unbreakable bond doesn’t start at the World Championships, but it certainly gets solidiﬁed there.
It would be much easier to take a top ranked club team to a foreign land for nearly two weeks and have them represent your country’s ﬂag at the World Championships. After all, that particular group of players likely lives 80 kilometers from one-another. They can practice a few days a week, hit the gym together, play on the same league team at a local rink, hangout at cookouts, or meet to watch a professional football game in a near by bar or pub. The wives/husbands or girlfriends/boyfriends of a team like this may in fact be best friends as well. The foundation of teamwork has been set, the bonding is there, and chemistry has been found. Where is the fun in that?
It’s no secret that to win a gold medal, scouts, coaches and general managers must scout various tournaments, leagues, and community rinks all over the country to ﬁnd the best possible team together before offering tryouts or even a roster spot.
Coaching staff and management have the tall task of telling some of the top talent that they’ve been cute from the roster since their personalities just didn’t seem right, or their heart wasn’t 100% in to the demands that are coming. It’s what happens after that moment that deﬁnes you as a team. To quote Olympic gold medal-winning USA ice hockey coach, Herb Brooks, “Who do you play for?” “If we asked that very same question to our team 12months ago you’d hear answers like ‘Pittsburgh Gods,’ ’Bauer Saints,’ ‘Leominster Americans,’ or ‘Garden State Warriors.’ Not today. Today, if you walked in our locker-room and asked that very same question, you’d hear every player proudly say, “The United States of America,” says USA Ball Hockey’s Men’s Senior GM Mike DeFazio. How? That’s the real question. How is a team of rivals from various regions of any country suppose to get along well enough to win a World Championship?
Team USA is comprised of 25 players from all across the United States, and mainly the East Coast. They have players from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania who have been rivals since childhood. Those players have had major battles together throughout the years with some animosity, anger, and competitive hatred to go long with them. Fast forward to today, all grown up. Some have become hard working employees involved in careers, business owners, or family men/women who stay home to take care of the children. Ball hockey has been away to keep in good health while fulﬁlling that competitive edge. Yet, they still don’t like each other when faced-off in game mode. So how is it that they can come so close together before the World Championship tournament even starts? Where do those bonds begin for new players and even the players who have been to a World Championship before? Here are a few tips that former players and staff members, along with current members of the men’s United States of America team have put together on how they do just that.
When the team was ofﬁcially selected, Team USA started a group chat for everyone using their mobile devices with an app called “What’s App.” It allowed the staff to relay messages, reminders, and notiﬁcations to the group, but it also allowed players to get to know one another, tease each other, share old stories and their excitement for what’s to come in the future. Snapchat has been another fun resource for team chemistry. Players receive money called “USA Bucks” which is earned by sharing a number of daily workout videos and images of workouts based on the training staff’s 3-month program. Facebook is another resource used by the management staff. A private team page provides “homework” for players to study, such as links to previously played games and training camps, videos to teach the system of breakouts, forechecking, face-off alignment, offensive zone support, and much more. When is it time to put faces to a name in a chat if you haven’t met this teammate yet?
“To create that bonding culture, we had to house all the players coming from various cities around America in our homes near Boston, Massachusetts. So for everyone that didn’t live in Mass, they all stayed at either my house or our GM, Mike DeFazio’s house,” says 2019 USA men’s team captain Nick Carter. “Sure, I personally knew most of the guys that stayed at my place. But there were a few that I have only seen in passing or combated against the rink,” Carter continued. “Ten guys, living under one roof for a few days can either get you in a lot of trouble, or make memories that’ll last a life time. Laughter has a lot to do with that camaraderie.” There’s something about the ability to make someone smile that creates a cohesion unlike any other. “So many laughs and jokes were shared in our 1-hour ride from the airport to DeFazio’s house,” shares USA head coach Cory Herschk. “Trash talk, playful harassment, wrestling matches for ﬁrst use of the bathroom, and arguments over where to eat breakfast or what song to play along the way are the little things that create a brotherhood that makes you feel like you’re living at home under mom and dad’s roof,” Herschk added.
Former USA men’s senior team captain, and current head coach of the U-20 Men’s division, Jim Daugherty shared, “ Being a ‘family ﬁrst’ dictates that chemistry. You’ve got to care enough about that person on the left or right of you in order to sacriﬁce your body to block a 110 mile and hour slap shot from an opponent,” says Daugherty. “When doing a drill we call ‘Omaha,’ I’ll never forget the one on one battle at camp in a tied 4 to 4 ﬁrst to 5 game that two of our teammates fought through without a whistle for long 6 minutes straight. Each dug deep to try scoring a goal. The reward was the pride they felt by not letting their teammates down. Although watching the other half of Team USA jump in the lake fully dressed after practice had it’s beneﬁts too.”
End of practice shootout losers dressing for “family dinner” in a Buddy the Elf costume, hiding a teammates blowup mattress or coaches clipboard, giving one another nicknames, and singing “happy birthday” to a teammate in a restaurant even though it’s not their birthday, are all small pieces to what make weekend long camps so important before lacing up those shoes to punish yourself just so the brother or sister next to you locks arms and enjoys listening to your country’s anthem be played when those three periods ﬁnally come to a close. Instant friends. Instant family.
12-Days It’s pitch black. Middle of the night. Not a sound but the engine of the plane shutting down. After card games end, riddles are shared, video games lead to wagers, and 4 movies are completed in their entirety, that airplane lands bringing you to the hometown of the World Championships with all of your teammates eager to ﬁnd their rooming assignments. Coach shouts, “Family breakfast is at 7:00 sharp tomorrow! If you’re on time you’re late, if you’re early you’re on time!”
“My mother always had the family over on Sunday’s for Sunday dinner,” Herschk tells. “Whether you were hungry or not, busy or not, you came to family dinner on Sunday.” He continued, “As a family, we will not only play together, but we will have breakfast and dinner together as well. Hungry or not. This is where that disciplined mind becomes one with a disciplined body. We trained ourselves to embrace the attitude that it’s not about me, it’s about we. Tired or not at 7:00, we show up for the bond. So your roommate is going to sleep through the start of breakfast? You help them out by being his or her alarm clock. They’ll appreciate you later,” Coach emphasized.
“Some of my favorite memories of our trips to Switzerland and the Czech Republic came on our off days,” reﬂects goaltender Jon Rethage. “Our ‘off-days’ weren’t your typical lay-around the hotel with hockey on your mind type of days. The coaches would place us in teams of 5 or 6 players and give us missions to accomplish while walking around a major city like Prague,” Rethage continued. “I’ll never forget the fun we had on a few of those simple missions like coming up with the most creative nickname for our group and taking the most unique family photo. I can’t repeat our team name, but our photo was hands-down the best even though it was more on the copycat side of unique.” Rethage explained, “We lucked out sitting in the exact restaurant, at the exact table, with the exact waiter that Sidney Crosby and his Canadian teammates had when they were in Prague for the World Cup. Being a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan, I thought we were the coolest people in Europe on that day.”
“I remember the locker-room music after a win playing the same song all week long. I wish I could tell you the name, but that’s private information that only my family of brothers knows about,” jokes one defensemen from the team. “I will say, that every time I hear it played on Pandora or Apple Music it takes me back to the room with the boys when we were in celebration mode during those 12-days,” he said. The locker room is such a sacred and loved place by a player. A place where “Player-of-the-match” speeches are passed around with an odd item that only the team can relate to. A place were men and women laugh, cry, sing, dance, reﬂect, and dream the unknown, wondering what will happen the moment the door closes after the ﬁnal exit.
The men’s senior U.S. team encourages all players to sit in the bleachers as a fan and cheer on your women’s team as their biggest supporter and fan, while they dare you to be louder with your chants. They urge you all to take a moment to pay attention to and give your time to the young fans of ball hockey who live in the local town that came out to watch you, and may only want an autograph, a photo, a souvenir, or a word of encouragement. These memories strengthen that unbreakable bond between you and the ones who wear your ﬂag along next to you