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Lightning Sled A Team returns home as champs

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning Sled A Team brought home a national title this past weekend when it won the 2012 USA Disabled Hockey Open A National Sled Championship.

The tournament, held in Dallas, Tex., featured the top Division A sled teams from several NHL parent clubs, including the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes. A combined team, United Sled, consisting of players from several northern states, also competed in the tournament.

The Lightning Sled A squad, which is also a combined team comprised of players from the Lightning, Space Coast Hurricanes and Florida Eels, won each of its five matches in the competition, with each coming in convincing fashion. It kicked off the action by winning its first game over Dallas, 9-2, then followed it up with an 8-1 victory over Phoenix and a 5-1 triumph over United Sled.

After earning three consecutive victories in the qualifying round, the Lightning went on to defeat Phoenix a second time by an 11-1 score in the semifinals and again beat United Sled 7-1 in the championship game to claim their first-ever championship.

Sled hockey players took to the ice in a matchup following a Lightning home game this season. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
“The guys worked really hard,” head coach Mike Celona said. “We felt good about our chances going in, so to see what we were able to do at the end, and to bring home a championship, was really incredible.”

Overall, the Lightning outscored opponents 40-6 throughout the tournament and held a 158-36 advantage in shots over that total five-game span.

Despite this year’s tournament concluding with the Lightning being crowned as champions, the run towards a title proved years in the making.

The club had also participated in the annual competition in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but came up short. In each of those first two years, the team got knocked out during the preliminary stages and never so much reached the semifinal game. Last year, the team improved and came progressively closer, while still bowing out prior to reaching the championship game. However, with a more experienced team this year, led by three-time sled hockey gold medalist Greg Shaw, the club returned to the tournament and completed a straight sweep to go out as champions.

“We had some very skilled players in the past who just continued to play more and get better and better,” Celona added. “It was very rewarding to see how close we had come before and to get it this year. The guys did such a great job that I didn’t even feel the need to coach. All I could do was watch and smile.”

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