BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Greatest Sports Weekend Ever came to a fitting conclusion Sunday afternoon as the United States reigned supreme by defeating Canada at the 2015 IPC Sled Hockey World Championship.
On a weekend that featured a smorgasbord of sports, including multiple NHL Stanley Cup playoff contests, a Game 7 contest in the NBA playoffs, the NFL Draft, Kentucky Derby and high-profile middleweight fight, this matchup of North American hockey powers more than lived up to advanced billing.
This had all the speed of the Run for the Roses while delivering more hard hits than last night’s multi-million prizefight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
The U.S. and Canada went toe-to-toe for three intense rounds in a battle for sled hockey supremacy and when the final bell sounded, it was the hosts who came out on top with 3-0 victory to take home its third World Championship title.
But more than just the coronation of another sled hockey world champion, this was a showcase for a sport that continues to gain new fans who are quickly impressed with the speed, the skill and the ferocity with which the game is played.
Today’s game was not only broadcast in prime time to a national television audience, it was played in front of a sellout crowd of 1,598 at the HARBORCENTER, which marked the biggest crowd to see a sled hockey game in the United States since the gold-medal game of the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City.
“The crowd was super loud. You get high off of everyone screaming and cheering you on,” said Nikko Landeros, who was named the Player of the Game for the U.S.
“I’ve had that experience in Sochi [during the gold-medal game of the 2014 Paralympics] so today was an awesome experience to be able to do that on home soil means the world to us. To be able to do it in front of family and friends means a lot.”
And unlike the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight, this affair needed little time to reach its physical peak.
As captains Josh Sweeney for the U.S. and Greg Westlake of Canada exchanged team flags and went over final instructions from the officials, Canadian veteran Billy Bridges and U.S. teen phenom Declan Farmer joked at center ice waiting for the opening faceoff. It would be the last pleasantries the teams would exchange before they came out swinging from the drop of the puck.
“This is no different than any other hockey game, and you expect the physical part of the play,” said U.S. head coach Jeff Sauer. “We knew coming in that Canada is a physical team and they’re going to come after us and try and slow us down. I thought we went nose to nose with them all the way through.”
After an evenly played opening period, the U.S. stepped up its assault, outshooting Canada 8-0 in the middle frame while still failing to sneak one past Canadian netminder Corbin Watson. Still, with little to show for its dominance on the scoreboard, the U.S. never waivered in its approach of rolling three lines to keep constant pressure on the Canadian defensive corps with a relentless forecheck.
“After the second period, even though we hadn’t scored, we were getting so many chances that I felt that we had control of the game,” Sauer said. “We just had to get that first goal.”
The persistence paid off at the 2:58 mark of the third period as Farmer teamed up with fellow teen sensation Brody Roybal to give the U.S. the lead. Taking a pass in the high slot, Farmer ripped a low shot that banked off the post and past a helpless Watson.
“It’s hard not getting frustrated when you’ve getting a lot of chances and not burying the puck,” said Farmer, who led the U.S. team with six goals in five games.
Backed by a boisterous crowd that quickly drowned out any pro-Canadian chant, the U.S. pick up the pace and applied even more pressure that offered little opportunity for Canada to come up with the equalizer.
“These guys don’t play in front of a lot of fans, normally, and we haven’t had a lot of home games over the course of time,” Sauer said. “We’ve played in front of 500 or 600 people at times. But this is a great crowd and it was a great atmosphere."
Knowing it was only a matter of time before the floodgates would open, the U.S. continued its tenacious forecheck. Josh Misiewicz pounded a Canadian defender into a turnover and local hero Adam Page fed Dan McCoy, who made no mistake in scoring his first goal of the tournament. The assist made Page the all-time points leader for the U.S. in World Championship competition.
Staked to a lead of any type is usually more than enough with Steve Cash holding down the fort at the back end. And while he was seldom tested, the shots he did face were far from the quality scoring chances his counterpart was facing at the other end of the ice.
“As a goaltender it’s always hard to face fewer shots than to face a lot of shots,” said the man they called “Money.” “My teammates did a great job of keeping them to the outside and they make it easy on me.”
As one of only two players on this year’s squad who played in the World Championships the last time they were held in the U.S. in 2008, Cash said today’s game was just another example in how far the sport has come in such a relatively short amount of time.
“It’s just showing the huge potential the sport has,” said Cash. “Since I first started playing in 2005 my family was struggling to find steams of the Torino Games in 2006 and just to see it go from little tidbits here and there on the computer to having it played live on the middle of a Sunday is great.”
And now that he’s added his third World Championship title to go along with his two Paralympic gold medals, Cash said it will take time for it all to sink in as this historic sports weekend drew to a close.
“Yesterday my teammates and I were able to sit around and watch the Derby and watch a little bit of the fight,” he said. “I’m able to say that I was able to live that and then at the same time we’re here on a Sunday and win gold and show millions of people what we can do in sleds, so in a way I can say that I was a part of the greatest sports weekend in history.
“It’s obviously an honor and hopefully the media really picks up on the sport more and more not just here in the United States but around the world.”
Tag(s): 2015 Sled Worlds