New Jersey native and lifelong New Jersey Devils fan, Josh Pauls, has returned from the Sochi Paralympic Games and he did not come home empty-handed. The two-time Paralympian has secured his second-straight gold medal for the United States Sledge Hockey team.
Pauls, 21, grew up in Green Brook, NJ and graduated from Watchung Hills Regional High School in 2011. But the road to the Olympics started many years before then.
Pauls was born without tibia bones in both legs and had both of his legs amputated when he was just 10 months old. Growing up, Pauls’ father got him hooked on the sport through watching Devils games. He instantly fell in love with the sport. However, he was hampered and unable to play the sport, until he was introduced to sledge hockey.
“I was 8 years old when I first saw it and 10 when I first started playing,” he said, “until sled hockey the only way I could play was in the street. So with sled hickey being so close to standard ice hockey it was a no-brainer. “
It has been a long road to success for Pauls. He started playing for the New York Rangers Junior Sled Hockey club at the age of 10.
After playing for six years (2002-08), Pauls graduated from the Rangers club team and he made the United States National Hockey Team for his first time.
He continued his stay with the Rangers for an additional three seasons before joining the Disabled Athlete Sports Association (DASA) St. Louis Blues Club in 2011. With the Blues, Pauls won consecutive USA Adult Sled Hockey National Championships in 2012 and 2013.
But most importantly, Pauls was named to the 2010 USA Paralympic Sled Hockey roster.
“It’s been a great ride going from a 10 year old playing for the pure joy of competing to representing my country on the world stage again in my second Paralympic Games. Being able to represent the proud country I grew up in and love is absolutely amazing…” he said.
As a 17-year-old playing in his first Paralympic games, he helped team USA to a gold medal during the 2010 Vancouver Games by tallying one assist in five games. Team USA defeated Japan 2-0 for the gold medal, going 5-0 in the tournament without allowing one goal.
When asked what the best moment of his career was, it was an easy answer.
“For sure winning gold in Vancouver 4 years ago. Sochi for sure was right up there too. To be able to accomplish what we did in both those tournaments and to be able to share it with my teammates was an unbelievable feeling I won’t ever forget.”
But there was no added pressure to repeat following the Vancouver gold medal. They had a great team and were easily capable of winning the gold medal again at Sochi.
At the 2014 Paralympic games in Sochi, Russia, Team USA rallied in the medal round after suffering a 2-1 loss to Russia.
In the semifinals, America beat rival Canada 3-0, and then got revenge by shutting out Russia 1-0 to clinch the gold medal.
Sledge hockey is a relatively new sport, but Pauls says it is similar to ice hockey.
“It’s very similar to ice hockey. The overall talent level isn’t there yet because it’s a much younger sport than our standing counterparts but there is unbelievable talent throughout the world. It’s tougher to skate with the puck because we use our arms to skate and stick handle, but it is a fast sport that is harder hitting than regular ice hockey.”
We all know hockey players, and athletes in general, are very superstitious. We have seen Jaromir Jagr stand along the boards during the national anthem. Some eat the same food prior to games. Others do not let anyone tape their sticks. Personally, I have to wear the same green Under Armour shirt during each one of my own games.
Pauls has superstitions of his own. He was nicknamed “Supdsy” for his resemblance to Mr. Potato Head. Prior to each game, he faces a figurine towards the opponent’s locker room to stare them down. He also is always the first one on the ice between his line mates Declan Farmer and Brody Roybal. Whether it is going out for warm-ups or a line change, Pauls is the first one of the trio out on the ice.
Many people still do not know about sledge hockey, but awareness is on the rise following back-to-back gold medals as well as NBC Sports televising games at the 2014 Paralympics.
For all of you out there that have the same or similar conditions as Pauls, he offers a few words of encouragement to get started in the sport.
“It’s ridiculously tough when you first start, almost impossible sometimes. But I promise you it gets easier the more you practice.”
Along with being a lifelong Devils fan, Pauls has made it known that he wants to be a professional hockey coach one day. So it begged the question of what he would like to see the Devils do in the future.
“I’d like to see them keep Jagr and Tuomo Ruutu. I hope they give Cory Schneider the exclusive #1 job (over) whoever his backup is. He’s earned it. I’d really like to see them really infuse the young talent they have throughout the organization into their current lineup and I think they can compete well at the top.”
On top of his sled hockey career, Pauls is currently pursuing a degree in sports management from Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri. He is set to graduate in 2015 and continue his career and pursue his dream of becoming a professional hockey coach.