FARGO — The gold medals are in a box in the basement of David Hoff’s house in Bottineau, N.D. His wife, Angie, would like to display them somewhere while David is taking more of the low-key approach, but that’s a subject for another day.
Besides, when David arrived home from the Czech Republic this week, he had another piece of gold for the collection.
He’s the head coach for Team USA National Sled Hockey Team.
And these guys are good. The defending Paralympic gold medalists won the World Para Ice Hockey Championships with a 5-1 win over Canada last weekend, defending a title it won in 2019.
The 17-member U.S. team boasts players from across the country. The head coach, Hoff, and assistant coach, Corey Gorder, happen to be from Bottineau. Gorder is the assistant coach and athletic director at Dakota College at Bottineau.
The 53-year-old Hoff resigned his teaching and coaching position at Bottineau High School in 2019 to further focus on his Team USA duties, although he did teach math at Rolette High School last school year. It’s a 30-minute drive to Rolette.
That’s a snippet of the travel it takes to be the Team USA head coach.
“Those are the sacrifices you have to make if you want to be good,” Hoff said. “People can read about a gold medal but they don’t see all the weekend trips. Maybe leaving school on a Friday, flying somewhere and getting home on a Sunday.”
Typically, Hoff drives the 80 miles from Bottineau to the Minot International Airport. From there, the destination could be anywhere.
The team had a couple of training camps in Nashville, Tenn., prior to the World Championships because seven players live in the Nashville area. With a pandemic still going on, it made sense to go to a city that involved the least amount of travel for players.
In a sense, the team created its own bubble as best it could.
And that was the case in the Czech Republic, also. The team flew out of Newark, N.J., but not before it was tested twice for the coronavirus. Once on site, the team spent almost all of its time either at the hotel or the rink with a shuttle bus in between.
The world tournament is normally held in April but the pandemic forced a postponement to this month. It will make for a quick turnaround for the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, next March.
The tryout process for next year’s national team begins in three weeks. Hoff plans on carrying 23 or 24 players into the first training camp in September when the team will be trimmed to 17.
Training camps will be held once a month until January when training begins in earnest for the Winter Games.
It’s a different world from coaching kids in Bottineau.
“I miss coaching the high school kids, there’s something I love about that and I hope sometime to get back to that,” Hoff said. “At Bottineau as the athletic director, I was the bus driver, did the sharpening of skates, you do everything. This job is just being the coach. I’m responsible for the performance on the ice. We have other people to take care of the equipment and all the stuff that goes with it.”
Hoff also does something with Team USA that is illegal for a high school coach: recruit. It’s no different with able-bodied sports at that level, with the difference being it’s a smaller population of people.
Seven of the players served in the military.
“When guys are coming back, we’re trying to introduce their people back into sports,” Hoff said. “They are a big part of it. Not everyone is going to make our team but we have guys who are highly trained and skilled and they’re a real asset to us.”
Hoff credits former Wisconsin head coach Jeff Sauer for bringing national attention to sled hockey. Sauer was the national sled team coach who led it to Paralympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014. As Hoff was in Bottineau talking about his program earlier this week, a rebroadcast of one of his team’s games was being aired on NBCSN, the network of NBC Sports.
“I’ll do this as long as they let me,” Hoff said. “I’ve learned in the Olympic cycles that there comes a time for someone else to do it. I’ll enjoy it while I have the chance. I want to do these things while I can.”