Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Catching Up With Sleds

I'm a month late with this news, but I finally caught the game on a replay on TV last night. I feel that I should actually watch a game before commenting on it since there are many factors that go into a game that may not get shown on the scoresheet. The World Sledge Hockey Championship took place in London, Ontario at the end of April, and the tournament featured three of the powerhouse teams and one rising star. Norway, Canada, and the USA were there, and they were joined by Japan in playing this tournament, so it's better late than never that I report on the results seen in this tournament.

The tournament opened on April 18 in seeing Norway meeting Japan, and no one expected the game's outcome. Norway and Japan went goal-for-goal in this game, and the Norwegians eventually outlasted the Japanese in a 7-6 game! I'm not sure anyone was expecting that kind of goal output by these two teams, but the game was fast-paced and extremely entertaining from reports!

Canada and the USA had the late game, and this rivalry renewed almost immediately. Canada's Greg Westlake scored both goals in the middle frame to break the deadlock, and Canada skated to a 3-1 victory over their arch-rivals. There were 24 minutes in penalties handed out in this game as the hitting and scrums after whistles were very evident. But the victory over the USA was a big showing for Canada after the USA had won the last three major tournaments.

April 19 had the USA and Japan renewing acquaintances, and it didn't take long for the defending Olympic champions to establish their dominance. The USA scored eight straight goals before Japan got on the board with just 17 seconds to play for an 8-1 victory. Adam Page and Daniel McCoy had a pair of goals each in the victory as the Americans evened their record at 1-1 while Japan fell to 0-2.

The evening game had Norway and Canada in action, and this one was over early. Adam Dixon, Greg Westlake, and Anthony Gale scored opening period goals, and Canada was off and running on their way to a 14-0 victory over the Norwegians. The eight goals scored in the third period were paced Bradley Bowden's hat trick. Canada's largest margin of victory in this tournament moved them to a 2-0 record while Norway dropped to 1-1 in the tournament.

The USA and Norway got things underway on April 20 as these two teams hit the ice. Tim Jones had a goal and an assist in the first period, and the USA jumped out to a 4-0 lead through two periods before the Norwegians scored a pair of goals in the third period. Adam Page finished the game with a goal and an assist as well, and the Americans downed Norway by a 4-2 score. The win improved the American record to 2-1 while Norway fell to 1-2 in the tournament.

With the Americans winning in the early game, the seedings for the playoffs were set, but the Japanese still had pride to play for when they met the Canadians in the evening game. Greg Westlake had a pair of goals to open the contest, and the Canadians put ten more past Japanese netminder Shinobu Fukushima before the final horn sounded. Canada's dominant 12-0 victory moved them to the top of the standings with a 3-0 record while Japan fell to 0-3. This set the stage for the semi-finals of the World Sledge Hockey Championship as the USA would battle Norway in one semi-final game while Canada and Japan would face-off once more with a berth in the gold medal game at stake.

Norway and the USA had the afternoon draw on April 22, and this game was action-packed! Taylor Lipsett put the Americans up 1-0 in the first period with his goal. The Norwegians saw Eskil Hagen's goals bookend a goal from Helge Bjørnstad to give Norway a 3-1 lead midway through the second period, but the Americans fought back. Nikko Landeros scored a pair of goals to close out the period to even the score at 3-3 with one frame to play.

Helge Bjørnstad put Norway up 4-3 just over seven minutes into the third period, and it looked like Norway might close the door on the USA. However, Nikko Landeros scored for the Americans with just 1:22 remaining to complete his hat trick and tie the game at 4-4! Both teams appeared to be a little more careful in their own zone, but the Norwegians caught a break when Audun Bakke's shot found its way past Steve Cash for a 5-4 Norway lead with just 29 seconds remaining! At the final horn, that 5-4 advantage held up, and Norway advanced to the gold medal game.

The evening semi-final game saw Japan and Canada square off once more, and, like their first game, this game wasn't ever in doubt. Canada got a hat trick from Bradley Bowden and Billy Bridges had a pair of goals in the first period to help lead Canada to the 11-1 victory. Canada's dominance over their competitors was again seen in this game, and Canada surrendered only its second goal of the tournament through the four games they played. Canada advances to the final to play Norway while Japan and the USA will battle for bronze.

The bronze medal game got the early billing on Saturday, April 23, and the action was furious in the opening period in that one team took a big lead. The USA scored two goals in the opening 2:35, but Japan responded with a goal of their own. After Japan's goal, it was all USA as they scored the next seven goals. Nikko Landeros scored the game-winner, and really looked like the USA MVP throughout this tournament. The USA captured the bronze medal with a 9-1 victory over Japan.

There was hope that the evening game between Norway and Canada would be a little closer than what was seen on Tuesday when Canada blew out the Norwegians by a 14-0 score. Canada opened the scoring when Derek Whitson fired the puck past Roger Johansen to put Canada up 1-0. Adam Dixon made it 2-0 with just over three minutes to play in the first period, and there was certainly an advantage for Canada as they played nearly the entire period on the Norway zone.

A pair of goals by Greg Westlake in the middle frame deepened the hole that Norway found themselves in as Canada had a 4-0 lead through two periods. Norway came out skating hard in the third period, but Canada continued to apply pressure and added four more goals in the final stanza to make it an 8-0 victory. With the win, Canada earned its first World Sledge Hockey Championship since 2008!

Canada's Greg Westlake led the tournament in goals with nine, and he and teammate Bradley Bowden shared the tournament scoring lead with 18 points apiece. Canada has never finished lower than second-place in this tournament, and has captured gold in three of the four times this event has been held.

Congratulations go out to all four teams for an excellent and entertaining tournament! I cannot stress this enough: if you get a chance to see these men play the game of sledge hockey, you must take advantage of it. These men are some of the most athletic and gifted athletes I have ever seen, and their abilities make me realize that the human spirit can never been stopped. Well done to all the competitors, and congratulations to Canada for winning the gold medal!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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