VANCOUVER—They were the class of the tournament all week long and now the United States sledge hockey team has struck gold at the Vancouver Paralympics.
The top-ranked Americans beat Japan 2-0 today to capture the country’s second-ever Paralympic sledge hockey win.
The U.S. didn’t give up a single goal in the tournament and jumped on Japan four minutes into the gold medal game when Alexi Salamone scored on the power play.
Japan had a chance to pull even in the second period when it was awarded a penalty shot. But American netminder Steve Cash made a shoulder save to keep his team in front.
Japan had several great chances to tie the game late in the third period but couldn’t quite put the puck in the net. Taylor Lipsett added an insurance goal for the U.S. with 1:18 to play.
The American sledge hockey team also won gold at the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City. The silver is the first Paralympic sledge hockey medal in Japan’s history, and Norway took the bronze after beating Canada on Friday night.
Written by Peter Quartuccio
Photos by Carter Farmer
It is an adage as old as the hills, a warning of consequences and repercussions, and a piece of advice to the vain: “If you’re gonna talk the talk, you better walk the walk.” Team Canada should have taken heed to these words. They talked a great game, speaking with an air of arrogance that put them in a position where they had to win, else face the consequences of their brashness. Prior to the 2010 Paralympic games, Canadian Forward Billy Bridges denigrated the U.S. for their youth, boasting that Canada’s “combined Olympic experience is probably more than the combined age of [Team USA]. They come in with jitters and youth and nerves and we come in with the support of millions.” His teammate Herve Lord dismissed the possibility of the U.S. beating Canada, declaring bluntly that “it’s just not going to happen, us losing to them this year. No way.” Of course, he proved to be right, but not in the way he expected or wanted. The most topical of Canada’s brash remarks, however, was made by Canadian Alternate Captain Bradley Bowden, who spoke—prematurely, as it turned out—of the end of Norway’s reign as a sled hockey power, proclaiming that “[Norway has] been the top dog for years, but they’ve had their day.” Friday night, Norway proved Bowden wrong. Team Norway beat Canada 2-1, winning the Bronze and sending Team Canada home with nothing but anguish and regret.
The 1st period of the game was fast-paced, but largely uneventful: one penalty, no goals. It was in the 2nd, however, when the trend of missed opportunities for Team Canada began. Norway committed three penalties, which gave Canada a 5-on-4 advantage for over a third of the 2nd period. Canada could not cash in on their three power play chances, and despite peppering Norway goalie Roger Johansen with 14 shots over the course of 15 minutes, they ended the period deadlocked at zero. The Canadians finally broke through in the 3rd, as Adam Dixon scored just under three minutes into the period. After that, it all unraveled for Canada.
Shortly after the goal—34 seconds to be exact—Dixon committed a two-minute minor penalty, almost immediately squelching the momentum gained by his goal. Dixon’s penalty was followed by another, then another, and then came the most costly mistake of all: coinciding with penalty on Norway’s Helge Bjornstad, Canada was penalized for Falling on the Puck, which resulted in a penalty shot opportunity for the Norwegians. Canada’s goalie Paul Rosen was irate, throwing his mask on the ice and having to be restrained by his teammates. Perhaps Rosen never really collected himself, for Norway’s Rolf Elnar Pederson beat Rosen to his left, tying the game up 1-1. Canada was clearly shaken up by the goal, and their play showed it. They looked desperate and flustered, almost as if they could not believe losing this game was a legitimate possibility. With 3.6 seconds left in the game, Norway’s Eskil Hagen made that possibility a reality. His wobbly shot deflected off of Billy Bridges and floated above the outstretched arms of Rosen and into the net. The unwitting assistance of a Canadian player in the goal provided the perfect synopsis of the game: Canada beat themselves. Those in attendance at the UBC Thunderbird Arena were shocked. When the public address announcer read Hagen’s name over the loud speakers, you could hear a pin drop, or better yet, a maple leaf fall to the ground. One could wager a hefty sum that no hockey game in Canada was ever so quiet as it was during those final 3.6 seconds following Hagen’s goal
After Norway’s 3-0 loss to Team USA on Thursday night, some of the Norway players met with the media. When the question was posed to Hagen if he felt confident going into the Bronze Medal game against Canada, he responded, “Yes. We’ve beaten them before. We know we can beat them.” Some might call this bragging, but in the words of MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” With his game-winning goal, Hagen backed up his words; Canada could not. The closing moments of their loss gave a perfect example of their false braggadocio. After the face-off following the game-winning goal, Canadian Billy Bridges took a cheap shot on a Norway player in what was presumably retaliation for a hit made on Bridges earlier. By acting the role of tough guy when the game was essentially over, Bridges’ actions exemplified the affected and spurious bravado of Team Canada.
Before the Paralympics began, there was a good deal of speculation among the Canadian media that Canada could sweep the hockey medals, adding a Sled Hockey Gold to those won by the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Hockey teams. Just speculation, it turned out to be; empty words, very much like the empty chatter of Team Canada. Redemption may eventually come for the Canadians in the future, but four years is an awfully long time. The Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics was their chance to achieve expectations, to live up to the hype of their own making, and to win Gold on their home soil. They blew it.
From USA Hockey:
By Alex Clark
The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team will face off against an unlikely opponent on Saturday as it goes for its second-ever Paralympic Winter Games gold medal. Following a stunning upset victory over Canada in the semifinals, Japan will play Team USA in its first-ever Paralympic title game appearance.
The U.S. and Japan met in both teams’ final preliminary-round game of the tournament, with Team USA claiming a 6-0 victory last Tuesday. The U.S. has reason to be optimistic, as it has posted a 7-0-0-0 record against Japan during the 2009-10 season and has outscored Japan, 29-2, in the process.
But the Japan team that topped Canada, 3-1, on Thursday would be a very difficult out. Notorious for its speed, Japan added a physical element to its game against Canada that led to timely turnovers and odd-man rushes. While Canada carried play for much of the game, Japan proved opportunistic and guaranteed itself its first ever medal in Paralympic sled hockey tournament history.For the U.S. to be successful, it will need to rely on that which has been perfect thus far this tournament: its defense and goaltending. Team USA has yet to surrender a goal against in four games, holding its opponents to 29 total shots in those games and allowing double-digit shots only once.
The U.S. offense, frequently sparked by its mobile defense, will get its chances as the game progresses. Japan relies on the speed of forward Daisuke Oehara and reliability of defenseman Takayuki Endo, but doesn’t display the roster depth seen on Team USA. And while goaltender Mitsuru Nagase admittedly played the game of his career against Canada, he may be called upon to do the same in back-to-back games for Japan to stand a chance.
Still, Team USA is not taking its opponent for granted.
“We’ve seen what kind of team Japan can be,” said Bubba Torres (Riverside, N.J.). “They played the game of their lives against Canada, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t think they can do it again. We need to limit their chances and hopefully we can wear them down as the game goes on.”
The coaching staff of Team USA made a commitment two years ago to get the U.S. to the championship game of every tournament in which it competed. Now, the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team has a chance to do what no other country has done: win its second Paralympic sled hockey gold. Keeping emotions in check will be another key to Team USA’s success, according to head coach Ray Maluta.
“We might have been a little tight in the first period against Norway,” said Maluta of Team USA’s semifinal win. “I think we were a little over-excited. We’re exactly where we wanted to be now, and our guys just need to play their game to reach their goal.”
From The Vancouver Sun:
VANCOUVER - First it was no gold. Then it was not even a medal.
Canada’s sledge hockey team, the reigning Paralympic champions, will leave Vancouver as the fourth place country after stunningly losing the bronze medal game 2-1 to Norway Friday on a deflected shot from the blueline with 3.6 seconds remaining.
“I’m in shock,” said forward Brad Bowden. “It’s like I’ve been in shock two days in a row for sure.”
The Canadians had closed out the round-robin undefeated with a relatively easy 5-0 win over Norway on Tuesday, but then lost their semifinal game on Thursday 3-1 to a Japanese squad they had beaten 12 consecutive times since 2004.
They dominated that game territorially and did the same Friday against the Norwegians. But they were stymied by some terrific goaltending by Roger Johansen and their own inability to get any real quality chances.
“We kept most of the play in their end and that’s great, but it’s kind of in vain if you’re not getting pucks on net and it kind of bit us in the butt tonight,” said Bowden.
With Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Gordon Campbell in the crowd at UBC’s Thunderbird Arena, the game was scoreless into third period until Canada struck first at 2:45 of the frame on a goal by defenceman Adam Dixon.
But just over three minutes later, after Canada had killed off a lengthy two-man Norwegian power play advantage, Dixon was whistled for closing his hand on the puck in a mad scramble in the Canadian crease.
Rolf Einar Pederson scored on the ensuing penalty shot.
The game appeared headed to overtime, but with time wounding down, Canadian captain Jean Labonte’s clearance along the boards was stopped at the blueline by Norwegian defenceman Eskil Hagen.
Hagen who lives in Norway with former Canadian cross-country Paralympian Shauna Maria Whyte, fired a high shot that went off Billy Bridges’ upraised hands at the face-off circle, lofting up and over a helpless Paul Rosen in the Canadian net. The goal set off a wild celebration by the Norwegians.
“For us, little Norway to beat Canada in its home arena, is f------ great,” said Pedersen, the cocky Norwegian veteran who loves to stick it to Canada. “It’s almost like a gold medal.”
The real gold medal game will go today at noon between the U.S. and Japan.
Johansen said that after some horrible defensive efforts earlier in the tournament, the Norwegians tightend considerably Friday and “made it easy for me.” And he claimed he had told Hagen earlier in the game to try to fire some high shots at Rosen, whom he said loses his balance on high floaters.
“What I thought [when he scored?] Beating Canada at their home soil, is that possible? I haven’t landed yet.”
For Canada, which had come to Vancouver believing it could match the Olympic gold won by the men’s and women’s national teams, it was a heartbreaking defeat.
“It’s terribly crushing,” said Dixon. “After [the Japan] game, we wanted to come in today and at least walk out with our pride and with a souvenir to go home with. But a terrible bounce . . . We should have buried them earlier.”
It was quite likely the final game in the maple leaf jersey for a quintet of veterans, including Rosen, 49, Labonte, 40, former captain Todd Nicholson, 41, and third-liners Herve Lord, 52, and Shawn Matheson, 37.
“It’s sad to see guys go, but at the same time it’s exciting to see guys coming in,” said sniper Greg Westlake.
“[The media] sees the five older players we have here that might retire, but you don’t see the young guys, the 18- and 19-year-olds that are good hockey players. We do have some good talent coming in.”