SIOUX CITY — Sam Holzrichter knew he had to use his experience if he wanted the United States men’s national deaf ice hockey team to win gold last month at the 19th Winter Deaflympics in Italy.
This was Holzrichter’s third time competing at the international level, and as a 22-year-old North High School graduate, he was one of 16 who had that much-needed experience.
“I used those past experiences and passed them down to the younger guys to learn and experience,” Holzrichter said in an email interview. “The experiences also helped us played against the other teams and get gold. Even though I’m only 22, I’m at the upper half of the experienced players. I looked after and taught the younger guys the ropes and eased their experience in playing against other teams.”
Holzrichter made his international debut at the 2015 Deaflympics in Russia where the U.S. team brought home the bronze medal, then Holzrichter won his first gold medal at the World Deaf Hockey Championships in 2016 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Holzrichter is completely deaf, so he has to use his vision to succeed on the ice.
“Vision is the most important part for most of us,” Holzrichter said. “Some of us can still slightly hear during the game and try to still rely on hearing. For me, I am completely deaf. I have to have an increased sense of awareness with my vision and find passing lanes for my teammates. One of my teammates always yells at me to pass, however, I can not hear him.
“My vision, on the other hand, helped and I still pass to him perfectly. One time after the shift he asked if I could hear him and I said ‘No, but I can see you out of the corner of my eyes.’ That amazed him that I don’t need to rely on my hearing to have good awareness.”
The U.S. men’s team ended up winning the gold medal, and Holzrichter had an assist in the team’s 7-3 win over Canada.
On that play in the third period, Holzrichter thought he scored a goal with 11 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game.
Holzrichter’s shot got deflected, and Max E. Finley cleaned up the puck and put it through the net, giving Holzrichter the assist.
“Even though I got an assist instead, I’m still happy to have helped my teammate get a goal,” Holzrichter said. “My line worked hard all tournament and we felt that we deserve every goal that we got.”
The Americans had little trouble in the first three games of round robin play. They beat Finland 6-2, defeated Kazakhstan 14-0 and Russia with a 7-3 win.
However, the Canadians beat the Americans 4-1 on Dec. 20, a day before the two met again in the gold medal game.
Holzrichter knew that he and his U.S. teammates could bounce back from a loss, which they did to claim the goal medal.