Pyeongchang Paralympics Ice Hockey

Pyeongchang Paralympics Ice Hockey

The United States’ Noah Grove, an Urbana graduate, fights for the puck with Italy’s Gianluigi Rosa during a semifinal ice hockey match at the Pyeongchang Paralympics in Gangneung, South Korea on March 15. Grove had one goal and two assists to help the U.S. to a 10-1 win.

Noah Grove had a golden goal of sorts after watching the United States sled hockey team win a gold medal at 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi.

“I really knew that I wanted to go after that,” he said.

Four years later, Grove went after it and got it.

The Urbana High School grad helped the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey team win the gold medal at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang South Korea earlier this month.

Grove, the youngest member of the U.S. team at age 18, returned to his home in Frederick County on March 19. A day earlier — South Korean time, that is — he played in the gold medal game, which the U.S. won 2-1 in overtime.

And as he was being interviewed over the phone on March 23, the big prize he set his sights on winning years earlier was within eyeshot.

“The medal is sitting on the table right next to me,” Grove said.

Earlier that day, Grove visited Maryland’s State House in Annapolis, when members of the House of Delegates and Senate honored the gold medalist. And Frederick County executive Jan Gardner has proclaimed April 3 as Noah Grove Day in the county. Gardner, joined by City of Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor, invites residents to join in the celebration for Grove. The event will take place at 3:30 p.m. on April 3 in the first floor hearing room of Winchester Hall.

Grove has enjoyed his share of big moments as an athlete, be it in sled hockey or soccer. As a 15-year-old, Grove played for the U.S. in the Amputee Soccer World Cup. But winning the gold medal at the Paralympics is tough to top.

“It was life-changing. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip and journey,” Grove said. “It was all surreal when it all happened, and I think I’m just starting to finally fully understand what just happened.”

Here’s a brief recap. In the final at Gangneung Hockey Centre on March 18, the U.S. fell behind 1-0 to Canada in the first period. Keep in mind, Canada handed the U.S. a heartbreaking loss in the Para Sled Hockey World Championships in April 2017 at this very same venue.

“I think we kind of got down on ourselves a little bit right after that,” Grove said. “Heading into the next period, everyone was riling each other up, getting excited, trying to keep everyone in the game.”

Declan Farmer scored in the third period and overtime to lead the U.S. to victory. Right after the game, Grove and the rest of the U.S. players were presented with their medals on the ice.

That was one of the 13 gold medals for the U.S., which won more gold than any other country at the Games and finished first in the medal standings with 36. Second-place Neutral Paralympic Athletes, which included athletes from Russia who were considered clean following the country’s state-sponsored doping program scandal, had 24 medals overall.

With such stakes on the international stage up for grabs, long gone are the days when Grove just played sled hockey for the fun of it. As he progressed in the sport, he began to see a chance to accomplish big things.

Eventually, he was among the country’s best sled hockey players, playing in prestigious events. All of a sudden, playing for gold in the Paralympics was a realistic dream.

Grove made his Paralympics debut in the U.S. team’s first prelim game against Japan on March 11, and he didn’t take long to make an impact.

Taking the puck near the boards, he moved into the circle and ripped a 15-foot shot into the net, giving the U.S. a 3-0 lead.

“I’ve been training for a moment like that the entire last two years,” Grove said. “So it was great to finally put all the pieces together on that one play.”

His most productive game came against Italy in the semifinals. Grove scored America’s first goal and later added two assists.

While Grove was a part of America’s dominant performance, his dedication to his sport prevented him from spending too much time watching other events at the Games.

“We were able to watch a couple other Paralympic events,” he said. “But for the most part we were training or hanging out with the team.”

How did he feel about his performance in his first Paralyamic Games?

“As far as the prelims and semifinals games, I felt pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t really have a certain goal or expectations. I just wanted to go out and make sure I executed the game plan properly.

“I was a little bit disappointed in how much I played, but I can see where the coach is coming from, a young player, not as experienced, probably didn’t want to take the risk,” he said.

But now he has experience and is looking to continue his ascent in sled hockey.

In July, he plans to attend tryouts for the national team. The world championships are scheduled for April 2019.

He also plans to return to the University of New Hampshire in the fall. He skipped this spring semester.

And perhaps he’ll return to South Korea one day.

“Everyone’s pretty nice and accommodating,” said Grove, who praised the country’s culture. “It’s something that I’d like to experience, go back on a trip when I’m not playing hockey.”

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