As the American and Canadian men’s ice hockey teams were renewing rivalries at the 2015 IPC Men’s Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships in Buffalo, New York, Rachel Grusse was experiencing her own sporting milestone. With the women’s national hockey teams simultaneously in Buffalo, rooting for their male counterparts, Grusse earned the opportunity to don the United States jersey.
With both women’s national teams holding training camps there, a three-game exhibition series between the two was also held. For Grusse, the highlight of the experience was the chance to score the game-winning tally against Canada in a 4-3 overtime thriller. Being able to mount the sled for the US was a dream come true for an inspiring young woman with a promising ice sledge hockey career,
“It felt incredible to be invited to play with the US National Women’s Team in Buffalo. I had played with them once before in Philly for an exhibition game and it was really an amazing experience. I have been playing sled hockey for about 3 years. I swam for about 10 years and I have played wheelchair basketball for 5 years.
To be invited to play with them a second time was just as amazing. Then to score a game winning goal was surreal, and fantastic, and mind-boggling.”
Of note, she is among a group of women helping to provide a strong female presence in the Northeast Sled Hockey League. As a member of the Connecticut Wolfpack, she has had the privilege of calling female sled hockey superstars such as Kelly Lavoie and Karen Smith as her teammates. As a side note, Grusse also competes in wheelchair lacrosse with Lavoie. Other prominent women that are part of the NSHL include Kristina Vaughn with New York, and Christy Gardner with the USA Warriors.
“I have enjoyed playing with the Wolfpack because it is fun. The team is supportive and they give me lots of advice. And even though it’s a male dominated sport, there are more women on the Wolfpack team than most teams out there, which is interesting. The people on the Wolfpack team are my friends and they challenge me to be a better player and that is my favorite part of the team.”
During her Wolfpack career, one of her greatest performances came against the Space Coast Hurricanes at the New England Sports Centre in Marlborough, Mass. With Karen Smith earning the shutout, Grusse assemebled a remarkable six-point effort in a 10-0 win.
On the strength of four goals, Grusse earned the assist on Ryan Pelletier’s goal, which proved to be the game-winning tally. Of note, five women competed in that contest, testament to the growing impact of women in ice sledge hockey. The Space Coast squad featured Amanda Martori and Monica Quimby, while the Wolfpack featured Grusse, Lavoie, Smith and Kara Maloney.
Besides being teammates on the Wolfpack, Grusse also shares another unique achievement with the aforementioned Maloney. Both were named recipients of the George McLaughlin Award, given by the Tolland Fund. Honoring the late McLaughlin, who lost his life on September 11, 2001, he had been a proud fund raiser for a golf tournament that benefited people with disabilities.
Both natives of Connecticut, Maloney and Grusse won the award in successive years. Maloney, who was also a prominent athlete in wheelchair track and field earned the distinction in 2007. Grusse had the honor bestowed upon her in 2008. Prior to competing in ice sledge hockey, Grusse was a nationally prominent swimmer. Her efforts in becoming the recipient of the 2008 George McLaughlin Award were attributed to remarkable performances in the pool where she was nationally ranked by the IPC in the 400-meter freestyle, 100-meter backstroke and 100-meter backstroke.
“I was really honored to win the 2008 George McLaughlin Award. I’d been swimming for years. I’d swam on my local team since I was ten and soon after I joined a team that was made up of people with disabilities, the HSC (Hospital for Special Care) Swim Team. So to get awarded for my hard work was very cool.”
Embodying the values of hard work, dedication and perseverance, Grusse competes for the love of sport. In a game of endless fascination, She is among a group of dedicated women whose efforts are winning over new fans, discovering this hidden gem in sport. As her opportunity to compete with the US National Team contributes to a world-class rivalry, with each country attempting to be the game’s standard bearer, the real victory is the celebration of empowering women. Players such as Grusse deserve to be revered for what they represent, which is instilling hope in others.
“I am just so happy to be able to have these kinds of opportunities. While I was invited to play, I am not actually on the team. My plan for the future is to try-out for the US National Women’s Team so that I can officially be a part of the team and continue to improve my game.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Facebook