Thursday, 18 March 2010

Land Of The Rising Upset

Remember when I said that Japan was a darkhorse for a 2010 Paralympic medal? I had stated that last Thursday, one week to the day before Japan pulled off its biggest upset ever in sledge hockey. Everyone was expecting the defending Paralympic Champions in Canada to matchup against the defending World Champions in the USA in the 2010 Paralympic gold medal game, but Japan had other ideas. And they showed that they are a force to be reckoned with in the world of sledge hockey as they defeated Canada in the early semi-final game by a 3-1 score.

Marc Dorion opened the scoring late in the first period for Canada. On the powerplay, Jeremy Booker found Dorion, but his initial shot was stopped by Mitsuru Nagase. Dorion poked away at the rebound, though, and his third attempt pushed the puck across the goal line. Canada jumped out to the 1-0 lead on Dorion's fifth goal of the tournament at 9:56 of the first period.

To say that Canada looked off in the first period would be an understatement. Passes were sloppy, lines were out of sync, and Japan's trap-style of play really seemed to throw Canada off its game entirely. Canada may have outshot Japan 10-6, but it certainly didn't feel that way.

7:27 into the second period saw Japan notch the equalizer. Takayuki Endo fired the unassisted marker past goaltender Paul Rosen, and Japan was even with Canada at 1-1. Honestly, there had to be some discussion on the Canadian bench about the speed and skill that the Japanese were showing, outclassing the Canadians up to that point because it was clear that Japan was controlling the game.

Brad Bowden had a chance to put Canada up on a breakaway, but Nagase made the stop with his mask to keep the game knotted at one goal apiece.

"I saw the puck and moved my head into the right place to make the save," Nagase told reporters after the game. "That is my style."

The third period saw the tight-checking affair continue. Both goaltenders played well enough to earn the win, but the game was essentially decided with 1:13 remaining. The puck found its way out of the Japanese zone after a late Canadian flurry, and the speedy Japanese players pounced on the loose puck.

A three-on-one developed, and the Japanese players showed great passing as Kazuhiro Takahashi fed a wide-open Daisuke Uehara who went top corner past Rosen. Uehara's second of the tournament was perhaps the biggest of his career. Rosen had no chance, and the Japanese team had the 2-1 lead late in the game.

Canada pressed from the face-off, and got the puck into the Japanese zone where they controlled it. This allowed Paul Rosen to make a break for the bench, and Canada sent out the extra attacker. However, some additional bad luck struck the Canadians when Greg Westlake centered a pass from behind the Japanese net, and the puck eluded everyone. The bad luck came into play when the puck slid the distance of the ice and came to rest inside the empty Canadian net. Takayuki Endo was credited with the insurance goal with just 16 seconds to play, his fourth of the tournament.

Heartbreaking? Absolutely. Canadian players could be seen with tears in their eyes as they left the ice. Some still had tears as they addressed the media. However, as Greg Westlake said, "We deserved a better fate than this but sometimes life is not fair."

Japan will play the winner of the USA-Norway semi-final game to see who advances to the Saturday gold medal game. Canada will play the loser of that game in Friday night's bronze medal game. If you're interested, the bronze medal game goes 10PM ET, and the gold medal game will take place on Saturday at 3PM ET.

It is disappointing for Canada not to be in the running for another hockey gold medal, but that's why they play the games. Anyone can beat anyone else, and it goes to show that the favorites don't always win. Congratulations to Japan on their victory, and I say "chins up" to Canada. After all, there is still a medal on the line, despite it not being the preferred colour.

Go out there and finish the tournament with a win. After all, you still have an entire country cheering you on, and they're proud of you no matter what colour the medal is that you bring home!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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