Sled Hockey Tournament Interrupted by Japan Earthquake

Local Athlete and FCPT Patient Tells Story of His Experience

On March 11, when a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck northeastern Japan and a subsequent tsunami devastated communities along the country’s coast, Daniel McCoy, a member of the U.S. Men’s National Sled Hockey Team and Fox Chapel Physical Therapy patient, was competing in the 2011 Japan Para Sledge Hockey Championships in Nagano.

Sled hockey, known outside the United States and Canada as sledge hockey, is a key element in the Paralympic Games.

Nagano, which hosted the 1998 Olympic Winter Games, is located in central Japan more than 200 miles southwest of the Oshika Peninsula in the country’s Tohoku region, where the March 11 earthquake originated.

“It was pretty freaky at first,” said Dan. “But we knew right away that it was earthquake.”

Dan and his teammates were on the ice against Team Canada at The Big Hat, home of the 1998 Olympic ice hockey games, when the Tohoku quake struck. Play stopped for several minutes, but resumed after organizers determined that the arena was safe and the game could continue.

Dan’s father Mark McCoy, an assistant coach for Dan’s local team, the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins, also made the trip to Nagano, along with Dan’s grandfather Dick McCoy. Only after returning to their hotel did the athletes, coaches, and families learn of the widespread devastation caused by the Tohoku quake.

Worry Back Home

Back home in Pittsburgh, Dan’s mother, Angie, was following the game via a blog on USA Hockey’s website.

“I looked at the blog and thought they were kidding,” Angie said of reading the blogger’s post, which reported that the game started but was delayed because of an earthquake. She immediately turned on CNN, learned of the Tohoku quake, and began frantically trying to reach her husband. The family had kept in touch through Skype calls, and several harrowing hours passed before Mark was able to reach Angie to let her know that everyone was safe.

“He said everyone was fine, but that’s not enough for a mother, though,” Angie said with a laugh, remembering her husband’s first call after the quake. “I kept telling Mark – I need to see him! I need to see Daniel!”

Nagano experienced its own 6.6 magnitude quake in the early hours of March 12, which shook players, coaches, and family members awake in their hotel – everyone except for sound sleeper Dan.

“I didn’t feel much of that one,” he said, laughing. “I wouldn’t have even woken up if my roommate hadn’t woken me.” Dan and his dad arranged another Skype call to Angie to let her know they were not in danger after the second quake.

While the McCoys were unharmed in Japan, Angie worried that her older son Andrew would panic when he learned of the events there. A pre-med student and ice hockey player at Carnegie Mellon University, Andrew was on a mission trip in a remote area of Honduras with the Global Medical Brigade at the time and had no access to his cell phone.

“My sister recommended that I text him so he knew they were okay, so as soon as he had cell phone service he’d get a good message and not have to wonder. I’m so glad I did that, so he didn’t have to worry,” said Angie. Andrew returned home safely just a few days later, and learned of the earthquake when his connecting flight landed in Houston.

Back at The Big Hat in Nagano, tournament organizers had to determine that the arena was structurally sound before allowing the tournament to continue. Though one game was rescheduled, the tournament went on as planned. Team USA defeated Japan 6-0 on March 13 to finish third in the tournament overall, behind Canada and Norway.

Angie noted that USA Hockey did an excellent job keeping the families back in the States informed about the team, which was able to leave Japan as scheduled, even amid the radiation crisis that followed the earthquake and tsunami.

“We spent three hours just checking in at the airport,” Dan said. “But we got to leave Japan on schedule.”

When Dan, his father, and grandfather finally arrived home in Pittsburgh, both Angie and Andrew greeted them at the airport. Angie couldn’t have been happier to have everyone home.

Adaptive Hockey

The McCoys describe themselves as a big hockey family, with both boys playing the sport. Andrew began playing ice hockey at a young age, and Mark and Angie wanted to find an adaptive sport for Dan, who was born with spina bifida, a congenital condition that prevents the spinal column from closing completely during fetal development. He tried a few other sports before settling on sled hockey at the age of five, after learning about the sport through a program at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Erie. Dan began playing competitively at the age of seven, and currently plays forward for the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins, which receives sponsorship and support from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“It’s a lot harder than people think,” Dan said of the sport itself. “They don’t realize how much strength and energy it takes.”

Dan, a 17-year-old junior at Fox Chapel Area High School, qualified for the U.S. Men’s National Team last summer. He came to Fox Chapel Physical Therapy three months ago, after a shoulder injury following a weightlifting workout, and has been in treatment with Greg Campbell ever since.

“We’re in awe of Dan,” said Greg Campbell, partner and physical therapist. “Not many local athletes get to compete at the Olympic level. We’re incredibly proud to be a part of his life.” Dan and Team USA will compete in another tournament in London, Ontario in mid-April.

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