Minnesota Hockey Journal

December 2018

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and have joint practices and scrimmages with them. Hughes said she's grateful to compete against a squad that plays at such a high level, and sees it as a good learning opportunity for herself and her teammates. "To see how much Hanna has improved strength-wise and see that carry over to her game has been great," Davidson said. "Hanna just has confidence on the ice and can play a more physical style for us. Just to see that she is reaping the rewards of her hard work and sacrifices is great. To maintain a bal- anced life, with a work schedule, social life, family, friends—finding that balance to do all of that and commit to your sport and your national team. It's exciting to see how much she has grown and improved." While many of Hughes' games are played far from home, she's looking forward to February 2019, when the U. S. Women's Sled Hockey Team will take on the Canadian Women's Sledge Hockey Team in St. Cloud, Minn. SIGHTS ON THE PARALYMPICS The women's sled hockey program has been in existence for more than a decade, but the 2018-19 season marks its first under full gov- ernance of USA Hockey. For the team—and for the sport as a whole—it's a significant step in growing the game worldwide. "When USA Hockey announced it want- ed to take the women's team under the umbrella, of course we were overwhelmed and excited about it," Davidson said. "It's instant credibility for the sport itself. I think that's going to help our sport even more throughout the world." With enough growth, the team is hopeful women's sled hockey will be recognized as an official Paralympic sport in the coming years. "That has made a big difference, because obviously having that support is huge," Hughes said, "But it's still hard to grow the sport in other countries. We're hopeful that within either the next Paralympics, or the one after that, we'll hopefully be able to go." Hughes and her team participate in a handful of events each year. In May 2018, the U.S. Women's Sled Hockey Team traveled to Ostrava, Czech Republic for the Women's International Para Ice Hockey Cup—a three- team tournament against Canada and Team Europe—where it clinched the gold medal over Canada in the championship game. While many countries don't have enough players for a full team, international events have proved beneficial in introducing and strengthening the sport in other parts of the world. "We're just going to continue to be amazing ambassadors for the sport, support it and promote it in a positive light," Davidson said. "Not only within the U.S. for the disabled female hockey players, but also anytime we are overseas or have any international event." Hughes has witnessed firsthand just how much the sport has grown over the years. "I feel like every year at tryouts, we have more and more girls that are so experi- enced," Hughes said. "A lot of younger girls keep coming in, so it's really exciting to see that. We just hope that continues in other countries as well. It would be great to see it grow all over the place." A POSITIVE LIGHT Back home in Minnesota, Hughes is eight years cancer-free and works full time at Medtronic in the Twin Cities. She also just recently com- pleted her master's degree this past fall. Some aspects of her life are the same as they 've always been since her cancer diagnosis. Others—like her outlook on life— have changed. "I think it just makes you appreciate things a lot more," Hughes said. "Because you really don't know what's going to happen, and I think I'm a pretty good example of that. You can't really predict the future. I definitely just appreciate life in general a lot more." Hughes is seldom without signature smile. Especially as she remembers how far she's come, she can't help it. "If you would have asked me eight years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer if I would be playing a sport again, let alone play- ing on the U.S. Women's Sled Hockey Team, I would have said, 'no,'" Hughes said. "Going to college and getting my master's degree and working a full time job—it's just all things that I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to do again, but I think if you really push yourself and set your mind to it, there are a lot of things that are possible. You can surprise yourself." Hughes and the U.S. Women's Sled Hockey Team hope to compete in the Paraolympics Games one day. It's kind of surreal, going from thinking I'd never play a sport again to playing a sport at this level. It's something I never thought I'd be able to do, so I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to do it." D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8 | M H J ON L I N E . C O M 21

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