NESHL in a Nutshell

 The NESHL is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization established in 2005 as a means for regional Sled Hockey teams to engage in competitive, sportsmanlike hockey. We are the first-ever organized, multi-state, adult sled hockey league in the U.S, with Teams from Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Western Mass, Maryland, Vermont, and Pennsylvania currently in our league.

Sled hockey, also known as sledge hockey, is the fast, exciting, rough-and-tumble version of ice hockey played primarily by people with lower limb mobility impairments. The game is essentially the same as “stand-up” ice hockey, the major difference being that the players use a sled with two hockey skate blades mounted under a seat.


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From The Vancouver Sun:

VANCOUVER — Japanese coach Kojin Nakakita may still have a hard time believing it.

But his quick, determined and not-to-be denied sledge hockey team did the unthinkable Thursday afternoon, beating Canada 3-1 in their 2010 Paralympic semifinal at UBC Thunderbird Arena to win the right to go for gold against either the U.S. or Norway on Saturday.

“My head went blank,” said Nakakita, when asked how he felt immediately after the game ended.

“I knew if we played Canada 1,000 times we were going to lose 999 times. But not this one. We had a huge loss against the U.S. (6-0 on Tuesday) but we came back very strong.”

Those percentages may be a case of selling his team just a little short. The Japanese were quick and skilled against Canada, much better than they were against the U.S. on Tuesday.

For Canada the loss was devastating. Thirteen of the 15 Canadians were part of the 2009 team that settled for bronze at worlds.

They came in here wanting nothing less than gold. They wanted to follow in the footsteps of the men’s and women’s Olympic teams that had won gold.

“We didn’t win. That’s what happened,” said Canadian captain Jean Labonte, a 40-year-old defenceman from Gatineau, Que., who is in his fourth and almost certainly final Paralympics.

“We had a lot of chances. We out-chanced them but couldn’t bury it. We worked really hard but you have to hand it to Japan. They played the game we expected them to play. They’re a fast team. They go hard on the puck and I guess they capitalized on some of our plays. We lose as a team. Everybody battled hard but it just didn’t go our way.

“I think they played the game they usually play. I’m wondering if we didn’t beat ourselves out there. We had our chances, we had them pinned in their end quite a few times but we couldn’t capitalize. Hats off to them.”

Japanese goalie Mitsuru Nagase, who studied at Ottawa’s Algonquin College from 2000-03, was exceptional.

He blocked shot after shot — 19 in all — and was spectacular as the defending gold medallist Canadians were pressing for the go-ahead goal with the score tied 1-1 late in the third period.

After a late Canadian flurry, the puck came into the neutral zone. The Japanese pounced on it, broke out on a three-on-one and Daisuke Uehara scored the game-winner, beating Canadian goalie Paul Rosen to the top corner at 13:47 of the third of three 15-minute periods. Japanese captain Takayuki Endo, who had tied the game 1-1 with a second-period goal, scored an empty-netter to ice it with 16 seconds remaining.

Marc Dorion of Bourget, Ont., scored Canada’s goal on a power play at 9:56 of the first.

“I was (crying),” said Nagase, 34, of the game’s dying moments. “I’ve been playing for 15 years. It’s 7 a.m. in Japan. I think maybe it’s on the news. I hope so. Japan beat Canada.”

Japan beat Canada in the preliminary round at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, but they’d finished fifth in three straight Games before guaranteeing themselves at least silver here.

“We beat them 2-1,” Nagase recalled. “I remember that one. This one is a bigger win. It’s in the hockey country. I lived in Ottawa three years and I know how people respect the hockey. I’m very happy and proud of playing and winning in Canada.”

Canada gets either Norway or the U.S. for bronze on Friday.

On Thursday, after all the disappointment, the Canadians were at least able to talk about playing for keeps when the trophy is bronze.

“We came here to win gold but there’s still a medal for us to win,” said defenceman Adam Dixon, of Mississauga, Ont.

“We’re going to have to gather our thoughts and play whoever we play. It’s not the medal we want but it’s the medal we’re going to win.”

Dixon, only 20, was one guy who dared suggest that perhaps Canada had over-looked Japan.

“We said that we can’t look past Japan, but maybe we were focused on the game that we’re not in,” he said. “We came out a little flat, but we had a lot of chances. We have to hit the net. We’ll have to bury them (Friday).”

Greg Westlake entered the game with seven goals but couldn’t even rent one Thursday. The North Vancouver-born forward from Oakville, Ont., wondered if the team was as focused against Japan as it was when it handled Norway 5-0 on Tuesday.

“It was a bad game,” he said.

“What happened? You know our preparation for the Norway game was spot-on. We did everything right from the time we went to bed to the time we played the game and I don’t think we did that today. It has to start when you wake up in the morning. It was a quiet bus ride over today. I don’t know, as an assistant captain and as a proud Canadian hockey player I wish there was something more I could have done.

“I wish we could have another shot, but that’s sport, that’s life. I’m still so proud to be a Canadian hockey player.”

He said the team got its chances against a hot goalie, but just couldn’t score.

“We weren’t looking past Japan,” he said. “We missed nets. Their goalie played well and we made him look good on a few plays.

“I thought we played the Norway game like it was a Game 7, but I don’t think we played today like it was a Game 7.”

And so it’s a battle for bronze. Westlake hopes the country still has an appetite for it.

“We still have a young team,” he said. “We’re going to keep playing sledge hockey in Canada and we hope people still follow us. All we can take away from tonight is that we have to find a way when things aren’t going our way to make them go our way. That’s the Canadian hockey way and today we didn’t do that. In the future we will.”

 

Written by Peter Quartuccio

           Team USA could not have entered these Paralympics with higher expectations.  A consistently strong sled hockey program, the U.S. has flexed its muscles over the past year and a half, becoming what many consider the premier sled hockey team in the world.  Their talent is unquestioned, but their play on the ice has left the team wide open to criticism.  They have not yet had a thoroughly dominant performance during the 2010 Paralympics—nothing, for instance, like the 10-1 beating Canada (who many predict will meet the U.S. in the Gold Medal game should Team USA advance) put on Sweden Sunday night.  Team USA can be viewed as either one of two things: an over-hyped crop of unfulfilled potential, or a dormant volcano bound to erupt.  Team Norway hopes for the former, but does not have to rely on hope alone.  The Norwegians are always a threat come time for the Paralympics, and have shown as much by medaling in every year since sled hockey’s inception as a Winter Paralympic event. They have, in fact, never left the Paralympics with anything less than Silver since 1994.  Norway has not been the powerhouse they’ve been in the past this year, narrowly beating out inferior competition and losing badly to Team Canada, but the U.S. cannot afford to overlook and underestimate a team that could very well put an end to their Gold Medal dreams.  A loss tomorrow would be a crushing disappointment for the U.S., whereas a win would likely set up “the clash of the titans” that Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, alluded to in his speech during the 2010 Opening Ceremony last Friday night.  Much is to be gained by a win, and even more to be lost by a defeat for Team USA on Thursday night, and if anything can get them playing to their capability, this semifinal matchup can.  Now is their chance to avenge the loss that the U.S. Olympians suffered at the hands of the Canadians last month, and the smart money says they will relish the opportunity.

            For more coverage on the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, please visit www.WheelchairSportsFederation.org.

 

Written by Peter Quartuccio

            There were smiles on the faces of the U.S. players after they thrashed Japan 6-0 and earned themselves a place in the 2010 Paralympic Semifinals on Tuesday night, but you could sense that they expected to make it this far.  There was no prolonged celebration, and frankly, there shouldn’t have been.  There are simply too many terrific players on this team to accept anything less than a Paralympic Medal, and some would argue anything less than a Gold would be a disappointment.  The way several members of Team USA are playing certainly give them a very good shot at winning Gold, but there are serious concerns that I’m sure more than solely myself have about this team.

            Americans Taylor Lipsett and Alexi Salamone continued their fantastic play against Team Japan, with Taylor scoring his fourth goal in three games and Alexi scoring his third of these Paralympics.  The remaining four goals were firsts for each of the scorers: Forward Greg Shaw, Forward Adam Page, Defenseman Nikko Landeros, and four-time Paralympian, the great Joe Howard.  As with their previous victories, the U.S. scored in each of the three periods, distributing their six goals equally: two in the first, two in the second, and two in the third.  Penalties were a problem once again for Team USA, but they did not commit any truly egregious errors on the ice last night. 

            In truth, this game was nearly identical to the two games that preceded it.  Japan, like Korea and the CzechRepublic before them, lacked the defense to stop the quick and tirelessly aggressive U.S. attack, leading to way too many shots on goal for Japan’s goalie to handle.  From the offensive perspective, Team Japan could not sustain possessions long enough to mount a real attack.  Instead, they relied on poor U.S. passing and turnovers to create scoring chances, a strategy that rarely results in goals and even more rarely results in victories.  Their best offensive opportunity was a breakaway that was stopped with relative ease by the excellent U.S. goalie Steve Cash, who has not allowed a goal in 75 consecutive minutes of Paralympic play.  Team USA simply overwhelmed Japan, doing pretty much whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.

            The biggest worry Team USA has going into the semis and hopefully beyond is that their play has not consistently been at the level they’re capable of.  Tom Brake, who has years of sled hockey coaching experience and has even coached several members of Team USA, said it best: “They’re playing to the level of their competition.”  Rather than just blowing out their far inferior foes, they have instead kept them at a safe distance with three and four goal leads.  Their wins have been comfortable affairs, not out-and-out beatdowns, which they should’ve been.  In short, they have dominated their competition without being truly dominant, and perhaps this is because they haven’t had to be so yet.  They haven’t been truly tested.  Their play, while it has lead to an impressive three victories and a combined goal differential of +17, seems lackluster at times, and despite their immense talent, they struggle with the so-called “little things.”  Sloppy line changes, lax passing, dumb penalties.  These are not the marks of a Gold Medal winning team, and it is something Team USA needs to remedy if they want to find themselves hearing The Star Spangled Banner play as they stand atop the victory podium on Saturday afternoon.

            For more coverage of the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, please visit www.WheelchairSportsFederation.org

 

From USA Hockey website:

BURNABY, B.C. - The U.S. National Junior Sled Hockey Team fell to Sledge Team Ontario, 2-1, in a shootout in the first of a three-game exhibition series here this morning. The exhibition games are being played in conjunction with the Paralympic Winter Games sled hockey tournament that is currently taking place in nearby Vancouver, B.C.

The U.S. opened the game's scoring one minute into the second period with an unassisted goal by Kevin McKee (Eldridge, Iowa). But Sledge Team Ontario tied the game less than three minutes later.

Following a scoreless third period and overtime, the teams went to a shootout. Team USA got a goal by Daniel McCoy (Cheswick, Pa.), but Sledge Team Ontario scored twice to earn the victory.

U.S. goaltender Dany Hefley (Wexford, Pa.) made 13 saves in the losing effort. Both teams will face off again tomorrow (March 19) at 10 a.m. PDT.

NOTES: The U.S. National Junior Sled Hockey Team will be in attendance as the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team faces Norway tonight (March 18) at 7 p.m. PDT in the semifinals of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. For more information including a live game blog, photos, and features, visit usahockey.com... The U.S. National Junior Sled Hockey Team captured the Western Sled Hockey League title last month, beating out teams from Utah, Colorado and Arizona ... The U.S. National Junior Sled Hockey Team and Sledge Team Ontario played a two-game exhibition series last October in Rochester, N.Y., with each team winning once ... For the U.S. National Junior Sled Hockey Team roster, click here.

 

From US Paralympics website:

Alex Clark March 18, 2010

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Team USA faces Norway on Thursday for the right to play for gold.

The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team will compete for a medal at this year’s 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. The question to be answered on Thursday night is for what color medal it will be vying.

Team USA and Norway are facing off in the Paralympic Winter Games semifinals for the second consecutive tournament. In Torino, Italy, in 2006, it was Norway who emerged with a 4-2 victory and a ticket to the gold-medal game. Nine players on the U.S. squad were part of that team, and all believe this year’s version of Team USA has improved since four years ago.

“We’re a young team now, but a lot of us gained a lot of experience four years ago,” said Taylor Lipsett (Mesquite, Texas), who leads Team USA with four goals in its three games so far. “We’re faster and better conditioned, and we’re capitalizing on more of our chances.”

The U.S. advanced to Thursday’s game after claiming Group A’s top seed with a 6-0 victory over Japan on Tuesday night. In three preliminary-round games, Team USA has yet to surrender a goal while scoring 14 of its own. Norway, on the other hand, enters Thursday’s affair stumbling, having posted a 1-1-0-1 record in Group B, including a shootout victory over the seventh-seeded Sweden and a 5-0 loss to Canada.

But Team USA cannot expect a free pass to Saturday’s gold-medal game. The U.S. posted a 1-1-0-1 record against Norway during the 2009-10 season, with its only regulation win coming in a game in which Norway’s star Rolf Pederson did not play due to suspension. A plucky team that has participated in every gold-medal game since sled hockey was introduced to the Paralympics in 1994, Norway is sure to put up a fight.

“No one is overlooking Norway,” added Lipsett. “They have a good team, and Pederson’s been one of the best in the world for a long time now. We’ve worked hard over the last few years to make the gold-medal game in every tournament we play in, and we hope to do that here too.”

One final piece of fodder for Thursday’s match-up: these were the same two teams that met in the title game of the International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic, last May. Team USA took the contest, 1-0, with the game-winning goal coming off the stick of captain Andy Yohe (Bettendorf, Iowa) with just 11 seconds remaining in regulation.

Thursday night’s game may prove to be even more pressure-packed.

 
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