While seven members of the Pittsburgh Penguins will represent their countries in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Pittsburgh will be represented again just weeks later in Sochi by Dan McCoy in the Paralympic Games.
McCoy, 20, is a University of Pittsburgh student and a member of the USA sled hockey team. He has competed with the American sled hockey program since 2008, when he joined the U.S. National Developmental Sled Hockey Team.
McCoy was born with spina bifida, which causes the vertebrae to not form completely. He has played sled since he was 5, but started more competitively in 2003 when he joined the Mid American Eagles club team, after a revelation during the 2002 Paralympic Games.
“I’m extremely excited (to go to Sochi), it’s a dream come true,” McCoy said with a huge smile on his face. “Since I was 8 years old, in 2002, I saw the U.S. team win the Paralympic gold in Salt Lake City and ever since that moment I told myself I wanted to be on this team and have the chance to compete in the Paralympics for a gold medal.”
McCoy has already won his fair share of medals, including a gold and silver in the past two years in Paralympic Ice Sledge World Championship. He was also captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins club sled team, which he has been a member of since 2009.
Sled hockey has been heralded as one of the most difficult sports because of its dependence on upper-body strength. The players are given two small hockey sticks with blades at the bottom to propel themselves around the ice. Their legs are also strapped in, putting even more reliance on the upper-body.
Even Penguins captain Sidney Crosby admitted to McCoy, when he was a special guest at a Penguins’ home game, that he tried sled hockey and failed miserably, explaining the difficulty of balancing and how impressed he was by McCoy and his athletic ability to perform so well in the sport.
“That was awesome to hear one of the greatest players in the sport, hearing that he tried out sled hockey was awesome,” McCoy said. “He’s probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever talked to.”
McCoy said the process of getting named to the team was one of the toughest tryouts he’s ever participated in, even though he has been a member of the national team since the 2010-11 season.
“We had a camp in July and it was three or four tryout games. I think there were about 70 players there from all over the country,” McCoy said. “Paralympic years are always tough. Everyone is gunning for those 15 to 18 spots for the team. It was definitely the toughest tryout I’ve been in so far, but I just worked as hard as I could up to it.”
And his hard work has paid off as he will accomplish the dream he’s had since he was 8 years old – suiting up for the United States in Sochi during the Paralympic Games.