Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Strong Get Stronger

As you may know, Hockey Blog In Canada is committed to bringing you as many stories about hockey as possible. Granted, the majority of the hockey world is focused on the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that's why blogs like this exist. Simply put, there are other hockey tournaments going on as you read this, and I feel it is important to bring you information on the not-so-publicized stories. The image to the upper-left? Such is the case. Team Canada's sledge hockey team is currently competing in the 2009 IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Let's take a look at the tournament thus far.

The tournament opened on Saturday, May 9 at the Sareza Stadium in Ostrava. Eight countries are competing for World Championship gold. They are Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, Norway, Italy, Korea, and the USA. Surprisingly, Sweden and Finland aren't here, but that's ok. It gives some other countries a chance to hit the ice in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Of course, the Norwegians and Canadians are the favorites, but the Americans and Japanese are making great strides to close the gap between them and the top-tier teams.

Each day of games has all eight teams in action, so there is no gap in play except for scheduled off-days. We're halfway through the tournament, so here some quick recaps of each day's games.

Saturday, May 9

Team USA opened the tournament against Italy in the first game of the 2009 IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship. USA is looking to build on their silver-medal showing at last year's World Championship in Massachusetts, while the Italians are building towards the Olympics. 44 year-old defenceman Kip St. Germaine of Team USA stole the show, however, as he scored a goal in all three periods for the hat-trick to give Team USA a 3-0 win over the Italians. Goaltender Steve Cash earned the shutout with a five-save victory.

Norway opened the tournament against Korea. Norway is always a strong team, and is expected to medal at this tournament. Korea got the jump on Norway when Cho Byeong Seok scored on Roger Johanson just 52 seconds into the game. Norway used a powerplay by Kjell Vidar Royne at 2:55 to even the score, and then pulled ahead with another powerplay goal from Helge Bjorndstad at the 7:40 mark. Stig Tore Svee and Bjorndstad added a goal each in the third period to send Norway to a 4-1 victory.

Japan and Germany tangled in their first game each. Just 59 seconds in, Japan pulled ahead on a goal from Naohiko Ishida. At the 2:17 mark, Japan doubled their lead when Kazuhiro Takahashi fired a shot past German goaltender Rolf Rabe. Sven Stumpe cut the deficit in half with a powerplay goal for Germany at 9:26. Japan, however, went up 3-1 before the end of the first period on a powerplay goal by Satoru Sudo. A penalty late in the first period gave the Germans a powerplay to start the second period, and Frank Rennhack pulled the German squad within one goal when he scored on the powerplay just 23 seconds into the second stanza. Udo Segreff made it 3-3 when he scored seven minutes later. Both teams battled into overtime with the score deadlocked at 3-3, but Japan's Saturo Sudo scored his second of the game eight minutes into overtime to give Japan the 4-3 win.

The final game on the first day saw Canada meet up with the Czech Republic. Billy Bridges of Canada scored 7:02 into the first period to put the Canadians up 1-0. Bridges struck again 1:47 into the second period to put Canada up 2-0. At 11:47 of the second period, Shawn Matheson made it 3-0 for Canada. From there, goaltender Paul Rosen cruised to the shutout of the Czech team with a three-save performance. Canada wins their first game 3-0 over the Czechs.

Sunday, May 10

Norway opened the second day with a game against Italy. Wernes Morten opened the scoring for Norway at the 4:51 mark of the first. Italy evened the score at 11:31 when Andrea Chiarotti fired a powerplay goal past Norwegian goaltender Kissinger Deng. Norway took the lead before the end of the period, however, when Helge Bjorndstad his third of the tournament at 12:09. Stig Tore Svee added his second goal of the tournament at 2:36 of the second period to give Norway a 3-1 lead. Italy's Andrea Chiarotti struck again just 41 seconds into the third period to cut the lead to 3-2. However, it was all Norway from there as Rolf Einar Pedersen added two goals and Tommy Rovelstad added a single to lead Norway to a 6-2 win.

Team USA met up with Korea in the day's second game. USA was looking to keep pace with Norway while Korea was trying to crack the win column. It took a while, but the Americans opened the scoring midway through the second period on Adam Page's powerplay goal at the 10:00 mark. 1:25 later, Korea evened the score on a goal by Seok Cho Byeong. With 2:03 remaining in the game, however, the experience of the Americans showed. Taylor Lipsett ripped a shot home, and the Americans held on for the 2-1 win.

Canada matched up with Germany in what was expected to be a blowout. Greg Westlake opened the scoring for Canada 10:49 in, but that was the only goal of the first period as the Germans played hard and weathered the storm. 6:11 into the second period saw Jean Labonté score for Canada to increase the lead to 2-0. Two minutes later, Graeme Murray makes it 3-0. Brad Bowden makes it 4-0 at the 12:12 mark of the second. 3:16 into the third, Greg Westlake adds his second goal of the game to make it 5-0. Adam Dixon scored at 9:48, Marc Dorion added another at 11:26, and Billy Bridges rounded out the scoring with his third of the tournament at the 14:36 mark. Benoît St-Amand had little work in stopping five shots for the shutout as Canada takes the win with an 8-0 trouncing of Germany.

The final game of the day between Japan and the Czech Republic was a tightly-contested affair. Japan outshot the Czechs 15-7 in regulation time, but no one could break the goose eggs. Overtime also solved nothing, so the game went to a shootout with a 0-0 score. Both goaltenders - Mitsuru Nagase of Japan, and Michal Vápenka of the Czech Republic - were outstanding in guarding the twine through 50 minutes of regulation hockey. However, a winner had to be decided, and the only shootout goal was scored by Takayuki Endo of Japan, giving the Japanese squad the 1-0 victory.

Monday, May 11

Monday was a scheduled off-day for the teams. No games were played. However, with Canada, Norway, USA, and Japan going 2-0 in their opening games, the semi-finalists were already set. Who will play whom was all there was to decide. Norway and the USA were scheduled to play Tuesday, and Canada and Japan would also meet in the final game of the day. The winner of each game would secure the top spot in each pool, and the loser would crossover to meet the opposite pool's winner.

Tuesday, May 12

Korea and Italy opened Tuesday's games. Both team were 0-2, so someone would move into third spot in the pool with a win. Korea had been outscored 2-6 in their previous two games, while the Italians were outscored 2-9. Korea, as seen in their previous games, opened the game with a flurry of activity, and it resulted in a goal just 57 seconds in by Hwan Jung Seung. Italy pulled even at 3:41 when Florian Planker scored a shorthanded goal. At 8:55, Jae Cho Young scored a powerplay goal to put Korea up 2-1 before the end of the first period. Both teams battled hard in the remaining 30 minutes, but neither could get another puck past the goaltenders. Korea won this game by a 2-1 score, and ended up in third place of the pool.

The second game of the day saw the 0-2 Germans take on the 0-2 Czech Republic. Like the previous game, the winner would take third place in the pool. Germany had been outscored 3-12 in the tournament thus far while the Czechs had been shutout twice, being outscored 0-4. Czech goaltender Michal Vápenka had played excellent, and this game was no different. It took three periods and 1:52 of overtime to see the first goal scored, and, unfortunately, the Czechs still are scoreless in this tournament. Germany's Udo Segreff ended the game with the overtime winner to give Germany the 1-0 win and third place in the pool.

Norway and the USA squared off in the first primetime game, and this one was a hard-fought game. 3:39 into the first, and Norway jumped out in front on a shorthanded goal by Stig Tore Svee, his third of the tournament. Loyd Remi Johansen made it a 2-0 game when he scored on the powerplay at the 4:44 mark. Both teams battled into the third period, trading chances as they looked for victory. At the 5:28 mark of the third period, Team USA struck shorthanded as Taylor Chace notched his first of the tournament. However, goaltender Roger Johansen held the fort for the rest of the game, and led Norway to a 2-1 win and top spot in the pool.

Canada and Japan closed out the day's games. Japan needed a big effort to overcome the powerful Canadian attack, or they would be up against Norway in their next match. Greg Westlake opened the scoring 6:18 into the first period for Canada on the powerplay. Bradley Bowden doubled Canada's lead with another powerplay goal at 9:44. Into the first intermission, Canada had a 2-0 lead. 17 seconds into the second period, Bradley Bowden scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-0. Billy Bridges added another goal at the 3:00 mark to give Canada a 4-0 lead. Adam Dixon scored a powerplay goal at 8:30 to make it a 5-0 Canadian lead. Marc Dorion put Canada up by six goals at 9:14. Adam Dixon added another powerplay goal at 1:32 of the third period to give Canada a 7-0 lead. Paul Rosen was busy in the third, stopping eight Japanese shots and thirteen overall, for his second shutout of the tournament, and Canada's third straight shutout. Canada wins 7-0, and earns top spot in their pool.

Wednesday will see the four teams that didn't qualify for the semi-finals play off for placement. Germany will play Italy in the first game, while Korea and the Czech Republic will tangle in the second game.

Thursday will have Canada play the USA in the first semi-final, followed by Norway against Japan in the second semi-final. All four games, plus the final, will be broadcast live on the Paralympic Sport Streaming Broadcasts. The site is best viewed in Internet Explorer, but there are plug-ins available for other browsers.

Friday will feature the seventh-place game and fifth-place game, while Saturday will feature the bronze-medal game and gold-medal game. If you're looking for some hockey action outside of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, this is an excellent tournament to tune into, and I highly recommend checking out a sledge hockey game from the 2009 IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship.

In another piece of good news for the sledge hockey players and fans, the 2010 Paralympic gold medal game in Vancouver will be broadcast live as part of TSN and CTV's Olympic scheduling. This is phenomenal news for the sport of sledge hockey as its exposure will certainly help to attract new players and fans. I'm happy to be a small part of this exposure, and commend TSN and CTV for their commitment to the sport of sledge hockey!

Before I go, I have one more thing to say: GO CANADA GO!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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