Saturday, 13 March 2010

Good Start

Canada kicked off its defence of the Paralympic gold medal it earned in 2006 in Turin, Italy. Ironically, the defence of the gold medal began against Italy today. The Italians aren't seen as a medal threat in this tournament, but they are developing a fairly strong program within their country, and could be a solid team in the near future. Canada comes in as one of the gold medal favorites, so they had to be prepared for the Italians and not overlook them. Canada arguably brings its strongest team ever to the 2010 Paralympic Games, so let's take a look at how this game played out.

The game was tight in the early going as both teams seemed a little hesitant to give their opposition any room on which to capitalize. 20 year-old Derek Whitson of Canada was assessed the tournament's first penalty when he was whistled for interference at 2:58. Canada's penalty killers played strong, though, and they killed the penalty off.

The 9:28 mark saw the first goal of the tournament scored. Canadian Marc Dorion fired a pass out from the corner that ricocheted off an Italian defender, and the puck found its way behind Italian goaltender Santino Stillitano. It wasn't pretty, but Dorian's first of the tournament gave Canada the 1-0 lead.

As a side note, the Canadians and Italians had battled four years ago to the day in Turin, Italy at the 2006 Paralympic Games. The results that day were a little lopsided as Canada trounced the Italians by a 12-0 score. Ending the period down just 1-0 had to be a moral victory and a huge boost to the Italian team.

The second period was just as tightly-contested as the first period as the Italians looked to slow down the speedier and more skilled Canadians. The Italians received three penalties to Canada's one, including the sledge-specific call of "teeing". Teeing, or t-boning, is the act of ramming another player with the front radius of the sledge. Guiseppe Condello was whistled for this infraction.

Both Canadian goalie Paul Rosen and his counterpart in the Italian net, Santino Stillitano, were perfect in that period. I have to admit that watching the game move into the third period with the slimmest of leads against a somewhat inferior opponent had me sweating a little.

4:04 into the third frame saw the Canadians extend their lead. Greg Westlake, who had been playing a phenomenal game thus far, was rewarded for his hard work. Westlake took a pass in the slot from Adam Dixon, and fired a laser to the top shelf over Stillitano. The puck went just under the crossbar inside the net, but the puck came directly back out of the net, landing in front of the crease. After a review, the goal was awarded to Canada, and Westlake had his first of the tournament. Canada was up 2-0.

4:44 after he had scored his first, Westlake added another. Brad Bowden, playing in his 100th international game for Canada, slid a sweet pass across the top of the crease just out of Stillitano's reach, and Westlake poked home his second of the game. Westlake's second of the tournament at the 8:48 mark made it 3-0 for Canada.

30 seconds after Westlake's goal, Canada notched another. Captain Jean Labonté ripped a shot that hit Stillitano in the helmet and ricocheted into the net. Labonté's cannon-blast was one of the hardest shots I've seen in my years watching sledge hockey. Labonté's first of the tournament made it 4-0 for Canada at 9:18.

The last five minutes played out with Canada controlling the play, but it is clear that the Italians are a markedly improved team since 2006. Paul Rosen only faced four shots in recording the shutout, and Canada opened the Paralympic sledge hockey tournament with a 4-0 victory.

I do want to point out that the Italians wore some great uniforms. The logo was bold and stood out on the white jersey, the dark blue shoulder yoke allowed for some good contract, and font on the back made it easy to identify who each player was. Perhaps the best part of the jersey was the "Italia" emblazoned along the lower hem. Very good jerseys sported by Team Italia in my opinion!

In other games today, Team USA thumped South Korea by a 5-0 score. Norway defeated their Scandinavian rivals in Sweden by a 2-1 score. And the late game featured Japan taking on the Czech Republic. No results were available at the time of writing on this game.

Congratulations to Canada on their first win as they pursue a gold medal in Vancouver!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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