Oh Canada! Sled hockey team wins 2-1
In a perfect world, the first-ever USA vs. Canada sled hockey tournament would have resulted with an American sweep, but with only two months of training and a bevy of new players, one out of three wasn’t bad.
"We’ve been playing for two months, but I’m pleased with the overall effort of our team," said U.S. Sled Hockey Team coach Keith Blase. "We’re just a very young team. Right now, it’s not about wins and losses. It’s about development."
The Americans did manage to earn their only win in a dramatic fashion, with an overtime game to start the tournament on Friday night.
Canada led the game early with a 2-1 advantage at the end of the first period. In the second, the Americans bounced back scoring three goals, while Canada scored only two. In the third period, the U.S. team’s Alexi Salamone tied up the score at 4-4 with a goal at the nine-minute mark. American Taylor Lipsett scored the game-winning goal with 3:28 minutes left in overtime.
"We try to slow it down a bit and use our experience, but the U.S. is so quick, you can’t do it much," said Canada’s Billy Bridges. "We’ve been so sloppy. We’re not where we were a year ago. We’ve got a lot of work ahead."
Blase had the same reaction.
"We’re trying to focus on getting better each game," Blase said. "It’s always going to be a battle."
With emotions running high for Saturday night’s game, the two countries came out looking for a fight literally. With seemingly more players in the penalty box than on the ice, the Canadians rallied to as 3-1 victory. The U.S. struck first with a first-period goal. Canada answered back with a goal with two minutes left in the second period. In the third, the Canadians added two more goals for the victory.
In the second period, the U.S. put three players in the penalty box and a whopping five in the third period after a series of fights. The paucity of American players might have allowed Canada to start scoring at random in the third, except they had four of their own players in the penalty box at the same time. A raucous Park City cheering section added to the chaos.
"We’re always battling, because USA and Canada are so close together," said Bridges. "We always have rivalries because we know each other so well, so it gets heated at times."
Sunday’s competition was a bit more subdued after the previous two intense games. Both teams struggled to create much offense through the first two periods. In fact, it wasn’t until the final five minutes of the third, when the Americans lapsed a bit defensively, that the Canadians were able to sneak in two quick goals for the 2-0 victory.
"We just had a little bit of a breakdown," Blase said.
With 5:26 left on the clock, Bridges took advantage of a good bounce that put himself and Bradley Bowden against one American defenseman and sent the shot into the net. The two teamed up again with about a minute left to get the puck to Greg Westlake for a game-sealing goal.
"We needed that," said Canadian head coach Jeff Snyder. "I thought it might stay nothing-nothing."
The two teams met earlier in the year in London. Ontario, where Canada also won that tournament. Both teams are gearing up for a larger event in British Columbia, Canada next month where they will go against each other, as well as Norway and Germany.
"We’re gearing up for that," Snyder said. "It’s more difficult in an off [Paralympic] year."
Both countries hope to make the tournament an annual event to keep the rivalry going in non-Paralympic years.
"Our relationship with USA Hockey is pretty important," said Hockey Canada’s manager of men’s national teams Adam Crockatt. "We want to continue this home-and-home tournament to prepare for the Olympics returning North America in 2010."
Both head coaches praised the sled hockey-specific rink with sled-accessible benches and the venue’s proximity to the National Ability Center (NAC).
"It adds a lot to the game when you can come off the bench," Crockatt said. "When the guys are on the ice, it really takes from the tone of the game."
There was also applause from both sides for the response from the Park City community.
"We loved it," said USA team general manger Dan Brennan. "Once the word gets out the crowd will get even bigger."
Both teams struggled to make the trip amidst last week’s East Coast snowstorms, but Brennan had no regrets.
"When you see the teams out on the ice, it’s all worth it," Brennan said. "That’s the one thing about these athletes is they know how to deal with adversity,"
A carload of Canadian officials missed their connecting flight in Denver and had to make an eight-hour trip to Park City by rental car, but Crockatt said the difficult trip was well worth the effort.
"It wasn’t a problem," said Crockatt. "It was so nice, it felt more like seven and a half hours."
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