By PATRICK SMITH
New Hampshire Union Leader
HIS NAME IS not Chris Drury, Zach Parise or Ryan Miller. It's Taylor Chace.
And most Americans probably don't know of him, but they'd be proud if they did.
Taylor Chace, of Hampton Falls, captained the United States Ice Hockey Sledge team to a 2-0 gold medal victory over Japan on Saturday night in Vancouver during the final weekend of the 2010 Paralympics.
He and his teammates completed a five-game, unbeaten, unscored-upon streak at the games to bring the gold medal back to the U.S. for the first time since 2002.
Chace, a 23-year-old, was 19 when he was part of the bronze medal U.S. team at the Turin games in 2006.
He was a member of the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs in 2003 when he suffered a broken lumbar vertebrae and lost the use of his legs. And it was that accident and his competitive nature that eventually led him to ice hockey sledge or sled hockey, as it is known in the United States.
Chace is a student at the University of New Hampshire. If things had turned out differently, he may have even worked his way to a spot on the Wildcat team. He was a talented defenseman when the injury occurred, and his love of the game created an easy relationship with the current New Hampshire players and coaches.
When asked about Chace's Paralympic success yesterday, UNH head coach Dick Umile said: "That's great. He's a terrific kid. We've known him a long time and he's got a locker in our locker room."
Chace's athletic comeback was greatly helped through the Northeast Passage program at UNH, recognized as a national leader in the delivery of innovative therapeutic recreation services.
"He's impressive to watch," said Matt Myers, a UNH hockey student manager. "He really motors out there and knows the game very well. He has an ability to make everyone around him a little better. He's inspiring to watch."
On Saturday night, U.S. goalie Steve Cash put the finishing touches on his fifth straight shutout by making five saves, including a rejection of a penalty shot.
Chace anchored the defense in front of Cash and put up a goal in a 3-0 semifinal win over Norway on Thursday night. He had a pair of goals in a 5-0 win over South Korea during preliminary round action earlier in the week. He also had assists in a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic and a 6-0 win over Japan.
Many players expected a United States-Canada gold medal game match-up similar to the Men's and Women's Ice Hockey teams in the Olympics three weeks ago.
A surprise semifinal win by Japan over Canada forced the Canadians to the bronze medal game, where they fell to Norway, 2-1.
Chace has come a long way from his Junior Monarchs days and he has handled his journey through serious injury with determination and toughness.
"It was a devastating injury and blow in my life," he said earlier in the week. "At first, I didn't think I'd play athletics again, be part of a team, anything. It's been a long ride, and I've worked my (butt) off to accomplish what I have. To be here representing my country, my hometown, my family, it means the world to me."
Written by Peter Quartuccio
photos by Carter Farmer
Before a somewhat spiteful Canadian crowd, many of whom were playing the part of “Japan fan for the day” thanks to their team’s ignominious early exit, Team USA’s sled hockey team took home the Gold Medal in a 2-0 victory over Team Japan. The U.S. were on enemy soil, and they faced a team that was fast, dangerous, and hot off their country’s biggest sled hockey win on the Paralympic stage. Team Japan made it clear from the onset that they were not merely satisfied with beating Canada and content with a Silver. Team USA was made to earn their Gold Medal against Japan, whose quickness and tenacity were made most evident in the 3rd period. American goalie Steve Cash could not merely rely on his defense in order to gain the win. In previous games, his defensemen often dispatched of potential scoring threats before they were anywhere near the net, but in the final period, “Money”—a nickname he received thanks to his consistently clutch play—was under attack consistently. Japan’s shots, while not always on goal, were continuous, and were it not for some terrific saves, the game might have had a vastly different outcome. Team USA needed their goalie to stand on his head, and that’s exactly what Cash did, stopping all of the shots he faced—including a potentially momentum shifting penalty shot—and extending his streak to 210 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal. The U.S. Sled Hockey team did not trail in any of their five games, and did not allow a goal throughout the competition, a truly amazing feat.
Although many viewed Team USA as the favorites, they had to overcome several obstacles. Firstly, they are a very young team, with only four players over the age of 25. This kind of youth gives the team an advantage in terms of energy and stamina, but it also lends itself to anxiety and immaturity. Fortunately for the U.S., they reaped all of the benefits of their team’s youth and experienced virtually none of its pitfalls. Another challenge that that Team USA had to overcome was the site of these Paralympic Games. Throughout the competition, Team USA faced a highly partisan crowd. Regardless of who they faced, the U.S. found themselves being cheered against, and this only grew as the Paralympics continued. By the time Canada was knocked out of Medal contention, there was even a small smattering of boos in response to chants of “USA.” This too could have shaken the U.S. players, but it seems that they instead relished their role as the men in the black hats, channeling whatever emotions the crowd elicited onto the ice.
Finally, they faced the ultimate task of achieving expectations. This proved to be no doubt the toughest of their challenges. They started off with a decisive but sloppy and uneven win against Korea, and were not overly impressive in their next game against the Czech Republic. (The titanic effort by Czech goalie Michal Vapenka didn’t help their cause.) The team looked better against Japan, and a crop of Team USA players began to emerge as the go-to consistent performers. Taylor Lipsett and Alexi Salamone had already amassed four and three goals each, respectively, and seemed to ooze confidence as they took their shifts. Similarly, Nikko Landeros and Taylor Chace exhibited the requisite physicality and nastiness present in the best defensemen; they dished out crushing yet clean hits, and they played a huge role in keeping U.S. opponents off the scoreboard throughout the team’s Paralympic run.
After their 6-0 rout of Japan, Team USA took the ice for a Semifinal showdown with Norway that was far and away the biggest test they faced. Earlier that day, Team Japan had shocked the nation by knocking Canada out of Gold Medal contention. Upset was in the air, and uncertainty reigned over the proceedings as the referee dropped the puck, for if Team Canada could lose to Japan, a team that was beaten by six goals the night before, then the defending Silver Medalists Norway could certainly upend the Americans. And as the 1st period progressed, that outcome looked more and more plausible. Team USA seemed tentative and nervous, more fearful of suffering Canada’s fate than focused on playing their brand of hockey. Greg Shaw’s 2nd period goal put an end to that doubt. The importance of his goal cannot be overstated, as the team seemed reborn afterwards. Confident, physical, aggressive, Team USA took over the game, and dashed any thoughts of a premature exit from both the minds of the players and the hopes of Canadians everywhere.
Their Gold Medal winning effort against Team Japan was a triumph of perseverance and confidence, a confidence that never mutated into arrogance as it did with Canada. Team USA knew they belonged atop the Victory Podium, but they did not take it for granted, and they did not crumble when opponents pushed them; they simply pushed back harder. They responded to the expectations of their fans, of their country, and of themselves, and took home the Gold; the other supposed “titan” of the sport did not.
As they were throughout their run in the Paralympics, Japan was all class in defeat. They are perhaps the most widely liked sled hockey team, and the genuineness with which they embraced and expressed congratulations to the Americans showed all why they are held in such high regard. Team Captain Takayuki Endo wept as he received his Silver Medal, and received a richly deserved raucous ovation from the thousands in attendance at the UBC Thunderbird Arena. His team achieved what no other Japanese Paralympic sled hockey squad did, and achieved it the right way: with dedication, pride, and honor. No one can ever question Team Japan. They came into Vancouver a wild card, a long shot at best, and left Silver Medalists. Japan will improve, and Norway, Canada, and the U.S. must now make room for and take notice of a new sled hockey power.
With their victory on Saturday, the United States became the first nation to win two Paralympic Gold Medals in sled hockey, with their first coming in 2002 at the Salt Lake City games. On the ice, they embraced and celebrated, giddy with the thrill of victory. Team USA had overcome all and won Gold. They are back on top, and their 2010 Winter Paralympic run has proved that that’s exactly where they deserve to be.
For more coverage of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics please visit: http://www.WheelchairSportsFederation.org
From USA Hockey website:
VANCOUVER, B.C. - The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team won its second-ever gold medal at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games thanks to a 2-0 shutout victory over Japan this afternoon. Team USA did not surrender a goal in all five of its games at the tournament, outscoring its opponents, 19-0.With the victory, the U.S. becomes the first-ever team to claim its second Paralympic Winter Games sled hockey gold medal. Team USA last won gold at the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
"I could not be more proud of our players," said Ray Maluta, head coach of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. "These guys have given us so much over the last few years to get to this point. They've grown as athletes, players and men, and I'm lucky to have been a part of this ride."
Team USA took a 1-0 lead four minutes into the first period on the power play. Joe Howard (Kingston, Mass.) fired a shot towards the front of the net, where it was stopped by Japan goalie Mitsuru Nagase. During the ensuing scramble, Alexi Salamone (Grand Island, N.Y.) located the loose rebound, dragged the puck out of traffic and flipped a backhand shot over the sprawling goaltender.
Japan nearly tied the game early in the second period when Andy Yohe (Bettendorf, Iowa) was whistled for interfering with a breakaway, leading to a penalty shot. Japan captain Takayuki Endo snapped a shot towards the top right corner of the net, but was denied by the glove of U.S. goalie Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.).
Following a flurry of chances for Japan in the third period, the U.S. put the game away on the power play with less than two minutes remaining. Howard threw a shot low towards the front of the goal where Taylor Lipsett (Mesquite, Texas) was parked. Team USA's leading scorer redirected the puck under the sled of Nagase for his fifth goal of the tournament and the United States' second power-play goal of the night.
Cash finished the night with five saves, and stopped all 33 shots faced in five games played at the tournament.
From The Vancouver Sun:
VANCOUVER — In the end, it was as much about the game itself as it was about the gold medal.
The 2009 world champion United States added the 2010 Paralympic sledge hockey gold medal to their trophy case Saturday with a 2-0 win over a tenacious Japanese squad that finally got to the podium after three straight fifth-place finishes.
Norway took the bronze on Friday with a 2-1 win over Canada, the gold medallists in 2006, who finished fourth.
But the stunning success of this tournament and what it did to help grow the sport was as big a talking point Saturday as the final order of finish.
The game drew 5,810 fans, almost as many fans as UBC Thunderbird Arena can handle. The crowd loved the game. The players fed off the crowd. Games were televised live across Canada and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) beamed the final back to Japan.
“The energy in the building . . . I don’t think you can beat it,” said American captain Andy Yohe. “All the folks in Canada love their hockey and it’s just exciting to be able to come in and play in that environment.
“I wasn’t in Salt Lake (2002 Games) or Nagano (1998), but I was in Turin (2006) and it wasn’t even close to the intensity that was out there. We think that’s awesome.”
Yohe and the rest of the Americans were dominant in this tournament, out-scoring opponents 19-0. They got goals Saturday from Alexi Salamone and Taylor Lipsett and shutout goaltending from Steve Cash. Lipsett iced the victory at 13:42 of the third 15-minute period on a power play after a holding call on Noritaki Ito by Norwegian referee Petter Vojan Hegle.
The Canadians, of course, were frustrated, disappointed and ultimately forward thinking after failing to get even a corner of the podium.
They were done in Friday by an inability to score and an unlucky bounce that produced the game-winning goal with just 16 seconds left in the third period.
“It’s terribly crushing,” said Canadian defenceman Adam Dixon, who got Canada’s lone goal Friday. "There are a couple of guys where this is their last game. Coming into today (Friday) after yesterday (a 3-1 semifinal loss to Japan) we wanted to at least walk out with our pride and a souvenir to go home with. It was a terrible bounce but we should have buried them earlier."
As many as five Canadians are likely to retire. Rosen, who’s 49, defencemen Herve Lord, 42, and Jean Labonte, 40, Shawn Matheson, 37, and forward Todd Nicholson, 41, being the prime candidates.
But there will be a changing of the guard. And if this tournament doesn’t make people want to play or follow the sport, nothing will.
“I feel sometimes like I was born to play sledge hockey and to be able to give back to the sport and help it grow, I believe this has been fantastic for the sport,” Canadian forward Mark Bowden said.
Canadian forward Greg Westlake hopes this tournament will create interest, particularly outside of Ontario and Quebec.
“You guys see the five guys here who might retire but you don’t see the young guys, the 18-year-olds, the 19-year-olds coming in,” said Westlake, a native of Oakville, Ont. “I encourage everyone to keep watching us, keep following the sport.“
You look at our roster right now and we’re basically a team from Ontario and Quebec. We need more players. We need our trials to be tougher, we need to make tougher cuts. If the thing that comes out of this experience is that we get more players from Western Canada then that’s huge. We need all of Canada.
”Yohe said it’s good to see a team like Japan get silver after three straight fifth-place finishes.“
Japan played great today,” he said. “It’s good to see other countries coming up and developing their programs. It’s good for the sport. As you see in other sports where a couple of countries dominate, it’s bad for the sport. The more teams we can get at a really high level the better off everybody’s going to be.”