Friday, 28 November 2008

News I Forgot This Week

In my examinations of alternate jerseys and coaches this week, I forgot about a major story in the world of sledge hockey. The World Sledge Hockey Championship game took place last weekend in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and featured teams from Norway, Japan, the USA, and Canada. The tournament actually started on Tuesday, November 18 and I had intended to write about it, but it actually slipped my mind until yesterday. Let's get everyone caught up on what happened in Charlottetown.

Canada, Norway, and the US teams are solid squads who routinely challenge for medals at the Paralympic Games, and Japan was the underdog in this event as one of the newer teams to take to the ice recently. It was expected that both Canada and Norway had good shots at the gold medal, but the USA had beaten both teams before so this was a three-way race to the finish.

On Tuesday, Norway trounced Japan by an 8-0 score. Rolf Pedersen and Helge Bjoernstad scored four goals each as Norway looked to improve upon their silver-medal finish at last year's World Sledge Hockey Championship in Kelowna, BC. Roger Johansen recorded the shutout for Norway, and the Norwegian team outshot Japan 16-12.

The later game on Tuesday featured the North American squads facing off. Canada and the USA took to the ice at the CARI (Capital Area Recreation Inc.) Complex. Hervé Lord opened the scoring 13:53 into the first period for Canada, giving the home side the lead at the intermission. Marc Dorion doubled Canada's lead at 2:31 of the second period, but the Americans reduced the deficit to one goal after Chris Manns scored at the 14:00 mark. Summerside, PEI's Billy Bridges got a huge ovation after he restored Canada's two-goal lead on the powerplay at the 1:47 mark of the third period. Canada controlled the game the rest of the way, and won the game 3-1.

The early game on Wednesday saw the Americans taking on the Japanese team as both teams were looking to rebound from losses the previous day. Andy Yohe, Taylor Lipsett, and Bubba Torres built a 3-0 lead for the Americans into the second period before Japan's Mamoru Yoshikawa scored Japan's first goal at the 13:59 mark of the second period. Tim Jones added a little extra insurance in the third period as the Americans won the game 4-1.

Canada and Norway squared off in the second game with Canada's 1-0 victory from Kelowna still fresh in the Norwegian team's minds. Canada jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Billy Bridges and Bradley Bowden, but the physical play between the two teams was intense as there were eight penalties handed out in the first 15 minutes of play. The second period featured fast-paced back-and-forth action, but the goaltenders were equal to the task. The third period was marred by a Raymond Grassi game misconduct for Canada which gave the Norwegians a five-minute major to work with. However, Canadian goaltender Paul Rosen held the fort, and secured the shutout in the 2-0 Canada victory. Canada's second win guaranteed them a spot in the gold medal game, meaning the meeting between Norway and the USA would be a win-and-you're-in game.

The early game Thursday saw Norway and USA clash, and the Norwegians jumped out in front by a 2-0 score on goals by Rolf Pedersen and Helge Bjoernstad. Pedersen's shorthanded marker really energized the Norwegian team as they dominated the first period. They made it a 3-0 lead in the second period on Tommy Rovelstad's first goal of the tournament, and looked to be in control of the game. However, the third period belonged to the Americans as they controlled from the opening face-off. They were rewarded at the 8:24 mark when Bubba Torres scored. One minute and 24 seconds later, Jim Connelly reduced the deficit to one goal when he scored on Norway's Roger Johansen. The Americans applied tremendous pressure in the last five minutes, but Johansen made a number of huge saves to preserve the 3-2 win. With the win, Norway advanced to Saturday's final against Canada - a rematch of last year's final. USA would take on Japan in the bronze medal match.

Speaking of Japan, they ran into the Canadians on Thursday night. Greg Westlake, Matthew Cook, and Dany Verner posted Canada to a 3-0 lead before Japan's Naohiko Ishida put Japan on the board at the end of the first period. Adam Dixon made it 4-1 Canada in the second period, and Canada iced it with three goals in the third period. Westlake had his second of the game while Bradley Bowden and Billy Bridges had their first goals of the game. With the 7-1 victory, Canada finished the round-robin with a 3-0 record while the Japanese team finished with an 0-3 record.

As Friday was an off-day for the teams, the bronze medal game was scheduled for noon Atlantic time on Saturday while the gold medal game was scheduled for 4pm.

Japan and the USA met at noon, and this one wasn't even close. Tim Jones, Jim Connelly, and Brad Emmerson scored in the first period to put Team USA up 3-0 after the first period. The hammering continued in the second period as Taylor Lipsett scored twice, Adam Page scored on the powerplay, and Andy Yohe added another to put the Americans up 7-0 after two periods. Brad Emmerson's second of the game and Taylor Chace's first goal of the tournament were scored in the third period to round out the scoring. Team USA won the World Sledge Hockey Championship bronze medal over Japan by a 9-0 score.

More than 1200 people showed up to watch the Canadians and Norwegians tangle for the gold medal. However, this game was over before it began. Bradley Bowden scored 23 seconds in to put Canada up 1-0. Todd Nicholson added another to give Canada a 2-0 advantage at the first intermission. Marc Dorian and Greg Westlake added two more goals for Canada in the second period as Canada dominated the first 30 minutes of the game. At the end of the period, an ugly incident occurred. Norwegian scoring sensation Rolf Pedersen was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for elbowing. It seemed to kill Team Norway completely as they began the third period shorthanded. Marc Dorion and Greg Westlake added their second goals of the game and Billy Bridges had his first as Canada won the gold medal game 7-0. Paul Rosen shutout the Norwegians for the second time in the tournament.

Canada's dominance in sledge hockey is starting to emerge as they manhandled the powerful Norwegians in the final. However, Team USA made strides in this tournament by playing strong against both Canada and Norway, showing the world that the gap might not be that large.

Overall, congratulations to all the players on the teams that participated, and I look forward to the next sledge hockey international tournament. If you get a chance to see this hockey live, go see it. It's fast and exciting, and these guys can play. The skill and athleticism shown by the men on the sleds is absolutely amazing!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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