BEIJING - With the preliminary round being shortened to two games for Group A, the U.S. needed to make sure they were firing on all cylinders in their matchup against South Korea. The three-time defending gold medalists did just that in their route of the bronze medal favorites.
Five first period goals, including a hat trick from Jack Wallace, helped the U.S. to a 9-1 victory and clinch the top spot in the group and an automatic bid in the semifinals.
“It's an opportunity that obviously doesn't come around a lot. We've been really training hard and one of the key training points we had was to, you know, finish chances when you get them. I got a good amount of chances in that first period and I made sure to do that.”
For Wallace, the hat trick perhaps feels even more special considering he was not even sure if he would be healthy enough to begin the journey toward his second Paralympics. He had an injured elbow that required surgery and a long recovery process. Complications from the surgery required even more of a setback.
“When we were working with the doctors and the surgeons, they really didn't know the right path to take initially because there wasn't really a roadmap to get back for a hockey player, especially a sled hockey player,” he said. “They did an amazing job getting me a plan and getting me back to where I need to be. There were definitely some doubts and some worries in those first few months after the surgery.
“I'm so happy to be here that this was always the goal was to get to another games. And I'm happy I've been able to accomplish it through the support and help from family, friends and my teammates.”
The U.S. squad utilizes players up and down its lineup, and Wallace is no different. A defender by trade and on the lineup card, Wallace and his long sled frame (he is listed as 6’3”) can constantly be seen jumping in on the offensive side. The game against South Korea was a perfect example of that.
“I think the biggest thing was as we found ways to get him to shoot the puck. He's got a big heart, heavy shot and sometimes we don't seem to get enough pucks to maybe where he can get some shots off. I thought today we gave plenty of opportunities to shoot some pucks and he's obviously pretty lethal if he can.”
The first goal exemplified his heavy shot perfectly. After collecting the puck near the halfway, Wallace fired with his right hand and went bar down to start the trek toward his hat trick. For his second goal, he cut to the middle again and fired a shot over the goalie’s glove. His hat trick clincher showed some of the smooth skill he has as he passed underneath his sled and fired top shelf again.
All three of his goals were heavy shots that would be hard for any goalie to stop.
One of the focal points for the U.S. has been to continue to build and get better game after game. Wallace felt like the team got better in the second game.
“I think we're in a really good spot. Obviously, yesterday was a good game. Today was a little bit better of a game. There's little things we need to keep working on and keep building But I think we're on the right trajectory to, you know, play our best game at the end of the week.”
The U.S. will have a long layoff before the semifinals begin on March 11. After a complete day off following the back-to-back games, the U.S. will get right back to work for practice.
“That's the thing that's nice is we can determine what we want to do tomorrow. It's going to be an off to rest and recovery day for sure. We're not even coming to the rink,” said Hoff. “I think we need a day away from the rink and then we'll figure out tonight what we want to look at or what our practices are gonna look like.
“Whether Tuesday, Wednesday, in terms of being heavy and competitive, we have the ability to do that within our lineup to compete hard against each other. Um, we'll definitely set one of those days as maybe almost our game day where we compete against each other. And then really at that point, we'll start to know who our opponents are going to be and you know, really prepare for them.”