Friday, 17 April 2015

Kelsey DiClaudio poised to be the ice sledge hockey superstar of her generation

When the first IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championships were contested in 1990, the star player for the United States was Cammi Granato. For a generation, she would become an ambassador for the game, inspiring a new group of young girls to take up the sport. Among her greatest accomplishments, she led the US to the gold medal at the inaugural Winter Games women’s ice hockey event in Nagano 1998. Becoming the first American women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Fast forward several years and a new a new face in American hockey is ready to emulate her successes. Kelsey DiClaudio may very well be destined to have the same impact as Granato, adding a new dimension to the women’s game. At the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, women’s ice sledge hockey shall be a demonstration sport. With the US program having earned the gold medal at the inaugural IPC World Sled Hockey Challenge in 2014, it creates a strong sense of momentum that a golden finish is possible in 2018.
Taking into account that 2018 also marks the 20th anniversary of the Nagano Winter Games, it would certainly pay homage to an historic and relevant chapter in American women’s hockey history. It is also possible that DiClaudio could carve an even greater legacy at Pyeongchang. During the 2014-15 season, she was the only woman on the US National Development Sled Hockey Team.

Possessing such world class talent, speculation already exists that DiClaudio may be part of the men’s ice sledge hockey team at Pyeongchang. She is certainly no stranger to competing alongside men. A member of the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins ice sledge hockey club, she is the only woman in their program. As a side note, only one woman broke the gender barrier in international play; Betty Meijer-Hazewindus competed for the Netherlands ice sledge hockey team in 2009 and 2011.
Of note, DiClaudio has already left a remarkable legacy on the game. In the aftermath of the IPC Worlds in 2014 (where she claimed the tourney’s scoring title with 17 goals and 23 points), DiClaudio’s jersey was given to the Hockey Hall of Fame. With Granato part of the Hall, DiClaudio now gets to share a special place with another American women’s hockey pioneer. An extra accolade included recognition as the International Paralympic Committee Athlete of the Month for November 2014.

DiClaudio’s impact in the sport may certainly be the catalyst to increase awareness to one of the best kept secrets in women’s sport. Future success may also inspire an entire new generation of disabled yet courageous women to take up the sport or at least raise their self-esteem and confidence by gaining the encouragement to participate in any sporting endeavor. Just like Sam Gordon in football and Mo’ne Davis in baseball, DiClaudio has helped shatter barriers, challenging the traditional views of women in sport.

Coincidentally, DiClaudio was part of the Salute Women in Sports Annual Gala in 2013. Held in New York City, Gordon was one of the young female sporting superstars also in attendance. While there, DiClaudio had the chance to meet other hockey heroes that have donned the US jersey such as Julie Chu, Hilary Knight and Angela Ruggiero. Mutual admiration was certainly established on that special night, which may hopefully one day lead to USA Hockey’s sponsorship of the women’s ice sledge hockey team, allowing it an even greater chance to grow and succeed.

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