When Craig Brady chases a puck and glides into a corner, the rookie defenseman does so with purpose and intensity. It’s rare if the former Marine “rock star” does not win the battle.
Goalie Steve Cash laughed when asked of Brady’s courage and toughness when attacking a loose puck.
“He’s not scared to go in a corner, no not at all,” said Cash, who has backstopped Team USA to a semifinal game against Russia on Thursday in the squad’s bid to capture a third consecutive pennant during the 2013 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships in Goyang, Korea. “I’ve watched him many times go in a corner. He’s hard to move.”
And harder to rattle.
Anxious times during sled hockey matches seem to pale in comparison to his experiences during three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion.
“I was just doing my job to the best of my ability,” Brady said.
His job, in part as an engineer, was to man the point and clear explosives for the following troops.
“He was a rock star over there,” said James Holding, a former corporal who worked with Brady in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in 2009-10.
“One of the worst places,” Holding said. “You couldn’t walk anywhere without an engineer.”
Holding’s head dropped momentarily when asked about Brady’s injury.
“He was our team leader,” he said.
On Jan. 7, 2010, Brady’s unit was initially attacked by mortars, he said. In the midst of battle, Brady stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). Despite a firefight surrounding him, Brady, with the aid of his fellow Marines, survived.
Of that day, Brady said simply: “It was what it was.”
The U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, including Brady, has five military veterans on its roster: Rico Roman, Paul Schaus, Josh Sweeney and Jen Yung Lee. Brady, Roman, Schaus and Sweeney received Purple Hearts. Lee is on active duty.
“They’ve worn the ultimate jersey,” defenseman Taylor Chace said. “I can’t relate to what they’ve been through in a war zone. They bring another element in leadership. They are ultra-focused and ultra-intense, but in control of what they are doing. They bring a sense of confidence and calmness in times of stress.”
Recovering from his injuries in April 2010, Brady learned of an opportunity to play sled hockey. A former prep ice hockey player, the native of Norwood, Mass. said the sport helped him heal, mentally and physically.
Brady spent the 2010-11 season honing his skills with the USA Warriors, an ice hockey program organized by the United State Armed Forces. Brady picked the sport up quickly, catching the eye of the national coaches. He continues to work on two elements of his game: stickhandling and speed.
“I’m coming along,” he said, before joking about his quickness. “I know the game and know where to be. I’ve got to be in the right spot. I’m the slowest guy on the team.”
During his first season on the national squad, Brady helped Team USA place first last December at the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Calgary, Alta. and the 2013 USA Hockey Sled Cup in January in Indian Trail, N.C. Brady also dressed for Team USA’s three-game series victory over Canada last February in Rockland, Ont.
Team USA won all three of its preliminary-round games at the World Championships so far by a combined 17-0, but Brady has yet to find the score sheet.
One of the most respected players on Team USA, Cash said he pauses to listen when one of the military veterans speak.
“Of the whole team, they are the most disciplined guys, for a reason,” Cash said. “They show leadership on and off the ice. We look up to some of the military guys.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.