Cashing Out

Steve Cash, The Backbone Of The U.S. Sled Team, Leaves Behind A Mountain Of Medals And Memories As He Calls It A Career

Steve Cash would rather surrender a soft goal against Canada than spend time talking about himself. So all the attention paid to the 34-year-old U.S. National Sled Hockey Team goaltender has been a bit much for the soft-spoken sled star, who ended his iconic playing career on Oct. 25.

In the days between leading the U.S. squad to its fifth world championship title in Ostrava, Czech Republic, and taking aim at a fourth straight Paralympic gold medal in Beijing, Cash surprised friends, family and fans by ending his 16-year career as the heart and soul of the U.S. Sled Hockey program that has dominated on the world stage for more than a decade. 

"It's not often that you meet someone as talented and as humble as Steve Cash," said Dan Brennan, director of sled national teams for USA Hockey. "Steve has had an amazing career with the national team. He's a great hockey player, but an even better human being. He has been the foundation of this team for 16 years now and it has been an absolute privilege to work with him all this time."

Like so many, the past pandemic year has taken its toll on Cash, who finally came to peace with the decision to move on in early October. 

"It's been a decision in the making for quite some time. I wouldn't be able to pinpoint exactly when I started contemplating it, but throughout the summer I had kind of been juggling with the idea," Cash said during a USA Hockey Magazine podcast interview. 

"There's always going to be that voice in the back of my mind telling me that I could've pushed a little bit longer, but I think it was best for me and my future. It clearly wasn't an easy decision, but at the end of the day, I'm happy with it."

Opposing teams on the international stage will definitely be happy to hear the news. Since breaking on the scene in 2005, Cash has been a stalwart between the pipes for U.S. squads that have owned the podium at international events. Appearing in more than 150 contests for Team USA, the Overland, Mo., native owns a 103-16-7-33 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record with a career 1.22 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. He has backstopped U.S. teams to three consecutive Paralympic gold medals, allowing only three goals in 15 Paralympic appearances. 

He also kept watch over Team USA's net in a U.S.-record eight world championships, including five gold-medal finishes, a pair of silver medals and one bronze medal on the world championship stage.

"That just doesn't happen. I don't care who you are, I don't care what country you play for, I don't care what level of hockey you're at, that's not common," U.S. captain Josh Pauls said of his friend and teammate's longevity. "It's just absolutely insane. He's an absolute legend. But I think the best part is, to me, he's really just my friend."

Cash lost his right leg to osteosarcoma (bone cancer) at age 3 and started his sled  hockey career with the Disabled Athlete Sports Association St. Louis Blues in 2004. Within a year he made his first U.S. Sled Hockey National Team and was soon heading to Torino, Italy, to compete in the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games.

While he saw limited action, the idea of being on the world stage with many of the pioneers of the burgeoning sled hockey sport was an eye-opening experience.

"Being at those Games and seeing that you can showcase your disability and turn it into something that people don't necessarily realize you can do was great for me to see, even if I didn't get too much playing time," said Cash, who got his first taste of playing goal in the family driveway with his older brothers taking shots at him.

"It was a perspective that I had gained at that point that I can look back on and just think that was the beginning of just a great journey."

Of course, having great teammates to share the ride with him made the journey even sweeter and the decision to step aside just months before the team heads to Beijing even more gut wrenching. 

"Being in a locker room with 16 other guys who I know are going to have my back at any moment, it made it a lot easier to get out on the ice and go to battle with them," Cash said. "I'll certainly miss that part of it as much as I'll miss playing, but like I said it's not a good bye, it's see you later."

That leaves the top-ranked U.S. program with a seemingly gaping hole between the pipes less than six months before the puck drops at the next Paralympic competition. Brennan, the team general manager, and head coach David Hoff aren't overly concerned with their existing options in goal with veteran Jen Lee and Griffin LaMarre. Lee has been Cash's backup for more than a decade and has had a front row seat to watching how he prepared and played the game and has incorporated a number of those traits into his own style.

"I think the biggest thing for me is understanding the amount of that locked-in focus that he had," Lee said. "He's a very competitive guy. He was able to make those big saves."

With his playing days behind him, Cash plans on devoting more time to developing a curriculum to help other sled hockey goalies reach their peak. And of course he will be there in spirit when the puck drops on this year's Paralympic tournament in Beijing and cheering on his teammates as they shoot for their fourth consecutive gold medal. 

"I'm sure it's going to bring back memories whenever those games come on in March, but trust me, they're going to be good memories," Cash said. "It's not going to be from a place of jealousy or resentment, it's going to be that I was lucky enough to share the ice and a locker room with these great people."

And his teammates feel the same way about him. 

"For me, it's big shoes to fill, for sure," Lee said. "He raised the bar from day one. He left this game better than it was." 

Issue: 
2022-01

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