GOYANG, South Korea - USA. Canada. Gold Medal Game.
Five of the most compelling words in international hockey, yet they have never been aligned in sled hockey at an IPC World Championship or Paralympic Winter Games. An all-North American gold medal game seemed inevitable considering both countries reached the semifinals in the previous four World Championships and three Paralympics. Finally, they will meet with a world title at stake in Goyang, South Korea on Saturday (April 20).
“I think it’s a showdown that everyone in the sport likes to see," said Taylor Lipsett. "It’s a really heated rivalry, just like any other level of hockey. We’re excited. We match up well against Canada – both teams are fast and physical.”
The shift-to-shift match-ups will be key for Team USA as it will strive to shut down the line of Greg Westlake, Brad Bowden, and Billy Bridges, who have combined to score 11 of Canada’s 19 goals in the tournament.
“Last season, I just rotated the lines in our first five games against Canada,” said Jeff Sauer, Team USA's second-year head coach. “In the World Championship though, I did some matching of lines to try and take away some of Canada’s strengths and it worked pretty well (USA won 2-1 in the semifinals). This year, at times we played Canada without Taylor Lipsett, Taylor Chace or Alexi Salamone – three of our better players – and we pretty much rolled our lines. Now we’re in the final game and we probably will do a few things differently than what they’ve seen.”
In Sauer's two-year tenure, Team USA is 5-6-0 (W-L-T) vs. Canada, including wins in four of the last six meetings. Nine of those 11 games have been determined by two or fewer goals, making every goal extremely valuable.
“Canada will be the fastest team we play, so it’s important that we pick up guys on the backcheck and get back into our zone on defense,” said Lipsett. “Then we can take our offensive chances when they come.”
Overall team speed is USA’s best trait, enabling an aggressive forecheck and quick-strike counterattack. Many of Team USA’s 19 goals have come off turnovers and odd-man rushes. Team USA's leading scorer is defenseman Taylor Chace, who has five goals, including three game-winners. Declan Farmer and Josh Pauls, who are linemates, have four goals apiece. Five other U.S. players have tallied.
“We’re using our speed and depth pretty well and those will be the determining factors against Canada,” said Alexi Salamone. “If we can use that speed on our forecheck and bang some bodies I think that can allow us to use the tactics that we’ve been developing in practice.”
On the cusp of winning its third straight IPC World Championship, Team USA is seeking the right balance of confidence, focus and enthusiasm. Tri-captains Chace, Lipsett and Josh Sweeney have been vocal in motivating the squad as faceoff approaches.
“We’ve reminded the team that this is why we’ve put all the hard work in all season,” said Lipsett. “Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be playing for this gold medal. This is the most fun. This is what being at the top of the sport is all about. Be focused, be ready, bring the intensity and go out and have some fun.”
Medal Streak Continues
By defeating Russia in the semifinals, Team USA assured itself a medal for the eighth consecutive major international tournament. The U.S. has won gold at two of the last three Paralympic Winter Games (2002, 2010), while taking home bronze at the 2006 Paralympics. At the IPC World Championships, Team USA received the silver medal in 2004 and the bronze medal in 2008. On the heels of gold-medal performances in 2009 and 2012, Team USA could be the first country to win three consecutive World Championships.
Thank You Fans
Team USA would like to thank its fans from across the 50 states and around the world for their support, especially the friends and family who ventured to Seoul to cheer on the Red, White and Blue: Catie Brady and Jen Ellis (Craig’s wife and sister-in-law); Alyssa Woods (Steve Cash’s girlfriend); Jairo Landeros (Nikko’s dad); Kathleen Lipsett (Taylor’s wife); Mark, Angie and Richard McCoy (Dan’s parents and grandfather); Norm and Sandy Page (Adam’s parents); George Lee (Jen’s dad); and Matt Farmer (Declan’s dad).
The top five finishers from the 2013 IPC World Championship receive bids to the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. They include the four teams that reached the semifinals (USA, Canada, Russia, Czech Republic) and Norway, which beat Italy in the fifth-place game. The final three spots for the Paralympics will be earned this fall at a qualifying event.