A three-goal first period was the difference for Canada on Saturday night (7 December) as they defeated the USA 3-1 to capture gold at the 2013 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in front of a nearly sold-out crowd at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto, Canada.
Just like when the two teams faced off on Wednesday (4 December) in the preliminary round, Canada was able to pressure the USA early and beat goaltender Steve Cash.
Defenceman Adam Dixon got the scoring started at 9:03 of the first period to give Canada the lead at 1-0.
The line of Billy Bridges, Greg Westlake and Brad Bowden then connected for two goals in 32 seconds, with Bridges and Westlake both netting markers to give Canada a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
“We played a poor first period against them the other night and we played a poor first period tonight. Other than that I thought we were pretty even,” said USA head coach Jeff Sauer.
USA would finally get on the board almost six minutes into the second period as IPC One to Watch Josh Pauls scored unassisted to cut the deficit to two.
That would be the only offence that either team would get on Saturday night. With Rico Roman and Josh Sweeney out of the lineup for the USA, the Americans’ top scoring lines were shorthanded.
“With the two guys (Roman and Sweeney) not here and they’re two guys that are on one of our top lines, so it’s a little bit different but that’s not an excuse,” Sauer said. “We played strong enough to win tonight we just didn’t get the goals when we had chances.”
Canada completely shut out USA in the third period, allowing them only one shot, much to the delight of their head coach.
“We’ve been really focusing on our defensive play and so when the US is coming at us like they did today again in the third … we kept the puck deep in their zone for most of the period,” said Canadian head coach Mike Mondin.
Corbin Watson got the win in net for Canada, making 12 saves for the win. Cash suffered the loss, making 11 saves and ended the tournament with a .857 save percentage.
For Canada, its was their first World Sledge Hockey Challenge title since 2011, though for captain Westlake, it also leaves a lot of uncertainty.
Westlake finished the tournament tied for first in goals with five and second in scoring with 10 points.
He commented: “We lost this event last year but won at the World Championships. We won it the year before and we lost the World Championships, so I don’t know what it means, I hope that trend doesn’t continue but what was important for me was that we got better every game.”
Leading in points in the tournament was Russia’s Dmitry Lisov, who helped his team capture the World Sledge Hockey Challenge bronze medal earlier in the day.
Russia defeated South Korea 4-2 in dramatic fashion with both teams tied with less than two minutes remaining.
With just 1:11 left in the third period, and after a scramble in front of the net, Evgeny Petrov beat Man-Gyun Yu to give Russia a 3-2 advantage.
Lisov would add an empty net goal to finish the game with two goals and an assist.
Konstantin Lobanov came into the game for Russia at the start of the second period and made six saves to earn the win. Yu made eight saves in the loss.
All four teams in the tournament will now shift their focus to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, with Canada now heading into next March as the favourites to take Paralympic gold.
“We are a good team, and there is no denying that but everybody is targeting us and we’ve got to keep getting better, we’ve got to keep pushing it,” said Westlake. “This tournament won’t mean anything if we don’t win in Sochi, and I really mean that.”