In Boston, Rick Middleton is known for wearing the black and gold, bringing people out of their seats in excitement, and helping his community.
In 2001 he was asked to do something he’d never done, and until the phone rang, it wasn’t something he ever thought of doing. A friend of his asked if he would be interested in coaching the US National Sled Hockey Team at the 2002 Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City. Rick said he didn’t know what sled hockey was, but they needed a coach, “all I heard was hockey and Paralympic, thought it would be fun, and be a challenge.”
Rick got a crash course of the game at a camp in Tampa, Florida, before meeting the players for the national team. Rick said it was a 6:00 am practice, and he was warming them up and had them skated from one end of the ice to the other at various speeds. Rick turned to them and asked them to skate backwards, and the rink erupted in laughter; that’s when Rick realized they couldn’t skate backwards. It was a quick learning curve for Rick and maybe what he needed to know he is more than just a “hockey guy” now.
The National team was only invited to Salt Lake City because they were the host city. They only won one game in their history, and their last coach quit halfway through the 2000 World Championship.
The team struggled with some adversity right from the beginning with half the team being from Chicago and those players coach causing a disturbance. The first time Rick was on the ice with his players, he knew these guys had a ton of talent. They were supposed to play a Tournament in 2001 before the games, but tragically 9/11 happened, and the world stood still.
For the next seven months, all these players had was training camp, which consisted of 4-day camps once a month. Tom Moulton, the assistant coach, and Rick didn’t know how good of a team they even had before the puck dropped in 2002. Rick remembers when they had their first camp in Buffalo right after 9/11, and people were still apprehensive about flying, yet every player made the trip. He had a feeling then that this team was dedicated and prepared to win.
The team went on to win the first five games of the Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City during the round robin and never looked back. The city and the country rallied around this team, and for the gold medal game, the team played in front of a sold-out crowd at the E Center. They went on to win the gold medal in a sudden-death shoot-out against Norway.
The story is so compelling and inspiring they are going to be making it into a movie called Tough Sledding. They are currently holding virtual auditions that you can sign up for on their website www.toughsleddingthemovie.com until July 31st, 2020.