For those unfamiliar, the higher the division, the stronger the competition. When it comes to the National Division, that competition includes players within USA Hockey’s national team pool that is spread across the three teams: the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, the U.S. Women’s Development Sled Hockey Team and the U.S. Men’s Development Sled Hockey Team.
In other words, Curtin, Maenza and Woodke have helped their Nashville Sled Preds go from fresh-faced rookies to playing some of the nation’s best sled hockey players in a four-year span.
But before they helped their team climb the ladder, even before they ventured onto the ice, Curtin, Maenza and Woodke were engaged in various athletic competitions.
“We went to physical therapy together,” said Woodke. “As we progressed, we would branch out and do different things like weight lifting and bike rides.”
The trio competed in numerous marathons such as hand-biking with the Achilles Freedom Team, a program that brings wounded veterans together and works closely with therapists at Walter Reed.
After leaving Walter Reed, the three went their separate ways, but met at the marathons and otherwise stayed in touch. With a strong bond between them, Woodke and Curtin ultimately moved to Nashville so the three could be close together.
That set the stage for their involvement with the Sled Preds. It was Maenza, the Nashville native, who got his buddies on the ice.
“We’re all living in Nashville and sitting around one day and Ben was like, ‘I tried sled hockey and you guys should come play,’” recalled Woodke.
So they did. They joined the Sled Preds and had only a couple of practices before heading to the 2015 Festival in Buffalo.
“John, Joey and I just kind of came together and we have been training and pushing each other forward,” said Maenza. “It’s fun to be here and be a part of it. We love it.”
The Nashville Sled Preds is a team that also features Michael Paul, a U.S. Army veteran injured in a non-combat accident, and Heath Calhoun, a U.S. Army veteran and double amputee who served in Iraq. Calhoun took up skiing before hockey and won silver in super combined at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
It was also at those 2014 Paralympic Winter Games that U.S. forward Travis Dodson (Deming, N.M.) first learned of sled hockey. Four years later, Dodson was a member of Team USA’s gold medal-winning team at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
“When I came on board, I started talking to the guys and found out how many were veterans and I’m like, ‘This is really cool. I had no idea,’” said Grooms, who has been around hockey 30-plus years. “It has really been an awesome experience for me.”
It has indeed been awesome for Curtin, Maenza and Woodke to continue to thrive at a sport they have only been playing a few years.
“We were not hockey players four or five years ago and now we’re playing hockey at the highest level,” said Maenza. “It’s awesome being with these guys.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.