“It’s hard to put into words right now. I’m so proud of every guy on the team, and it’s getting kind of emotional right now.”
Canada shut down its arch rivals USA, 4-1, for a record fourth gold medal and host nation South Korea snagged the bronze medal with a 3-2 win over Norway on Thursday (20 April) at the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships A-Pool in Gangneung, South Korea.
Behind the hot hands of Tyler McGregor, who scored two goals in the final and a tournament-leading 12 goals, Canada shut down the USA to win its first world title since 2013.
“It’s hard to put into words right now. I’m so proud of every guy on the team, and it’s getting kind of emotional right now,” McGregor said on the ice after the game.
“It’s been a long four years. Our last World Championship was here in Korea, so obviously we’re doing something right here. I think we came out today on a mission. We knew what we wanted to do, and we executed that. This is one of the closest teams I’ve ever played on, and this is one of the best days of my life for sure.”
The victory for Canada came just three days after losing to the USA in the preliminary round and two years after losing to its biggest rivals in the last World Championship gold-medal game.
A fast-paced first period started with a stick-handling show from McGregor and big hits from the USA’s Brody Roybal before Brad Bowden started Canada’s scoring surge. The veteran defenceman bounced the puck off goaltender Steve Cash’s glove and it spiralled to the top right corner of the net for a score at the 12:17 mark.
Fifty-five seconds later, 19-year-old Liam Hickey lasered the puck into the net to register two consecutive scores on Cash.
McGregor gained more momentum in the second stanza, notching back-to-back scores in a matter of 17 seconds. The first came off a series of passes from Billy Bridges and Bowden, and the second came off a helper from captain Greg Westlake.
The Canadian defence, anchored by Adam Dixon, shut down the US attack for the majority of the final frame aside from a power-play goal by Nikko Landeros with 2:58 remaining in the contest.
Dominic Larocque was credited with the win in net for the newly crowned gold medallists with 12 saves, while Steve Cash fended off the puck 13 times for the runners-up.
The USA’s Declan Farmer was named the tournament’s Best Forward and Canada’s Adam Dixon was awarded Best Defenceman, as both tied for a tournament-leading 18 points. Sweden’s Ulf Nilsson was named Best Goalkeeper after registering an astounding 144 saves in the event.
Bronze-medal game: South Korea 3, Norway 2
Host nation South Korea defeated Norway to take the bronze medal at the World Championships, recording its second-highest finish ever in event history. The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games hosts were powered to the podium by speedy forward Seung-Hwan Jung’s goal and assist, along with Man-Gyun Yu’s stellar play in net.
“Winning a bronze medal is the best feeling in the world,” Yu said, in tears skating off the ice. “I was injured and not with the team earlier in the season but just returned two months before the World Championships. So, I was very worried about coming back. But I got better and better as the tournament went on, and I couldn’t be any happier right now.”
South Korea’s Ju-Seung Lee, who started playing Para ice hockey four years ago, started the offense for the home team by scoring his second goal of the tournament just 7:13 into the contest. Defenceman Young-Sung Kim then doubled South Korea’s lead with a tally five minutes later with a helper from Jung.
The second period was a back-and-forth 15 minutes, with neither team finding the net and drawing a combined six penalties.
In the third, South Korea’s leading scorer Jung drove the puck into the net with 6:46 to go for his team-leading sixth goal of the tournament that would eventually stand as the game-winner.
Norway responded in full force with eight shots on goal in the final 15 minutes, as three-time Paralympian Morten Vaernes found the net twice in a three-minute span. But the Norwegians fell just short of tying up the score before the final buzzer sounded, leaving them with a second consecutive fourth-place finish at the World Championships.
Yu, who was able to keep the puck out of South Korea’s net during those final minutes, saved 12 during the game and finished the tournament with a very respectable 1.88 goals against average.
Kjell Christian Hamar, competing in his sixth year on Norway’s national team, had eight saves on the day.
Fifth-place game: Italy 4, Sweden 0
Italy clinched the final automatic Paralympic qualification spot available at the tournament with a decisive 4-0 victory over Sweden in the fifth-place game.
Eight different players tallied a goal or assist for Italy in the win, with veterans Florian Planker and Greg Leperdi, as well as rising star Sandro Kalegaris, notching multiple points.
“It was our main goal here to get the qualification, and we did it. We are disappointed a bit for not making it to the bronze-medal game, but it’s ok now because we’ve qualified for the Paralympics,” said three-time Paralympian Leperdi. “(Captain) Andrea Chiarotti is not here, so this qualification is for him.”
Competing in his sixth World Championships, forward Werner Winkler scored Italy’s initial goal 5:39 into the contest, assisted by a pair of 19-year-olds in Christoph Depaoli and Nils Larch.
Although Sweden outshot Italy 7-6 in the second stanza, only Leperdi and Kalegaris found the net to keep the Italians’ shutout in tact. Leperdi scored on the power play three minutes into the frame, before assisting on Kalegaris’ short-handed goal about seven minutes later.
Kalegaris made it 4-0 with a score on the power play 2:23 into the third period. The physical forward finished the tournament with seven of Italy’s 15 goals.
Gabriele Araudo played a complete game between the pipes, registering 12 saves in the shutout for Italy to finish the tournament with a 2.08 goals against average. Ulf Nilsson stopped the puck 19 times for Sweden, while Per Kasperi and Niklas Ingvarsson led the Swedish effort on offense with four shots on goal each.
Sweden finished the tournament in sixth place, just ahead of Germany; both of those teams will have one last chance to qualify for PyeongChang 2018 at a Paralympic qualification tournament later this year.
The 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships took place from 11-20 April in Gangneung, South Korea, which is the ice sports venue city for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. The tournament also served as the Paralympic Test Event, with the top five finishers automatically qualifying for the PyeongChang 2018 Games.
All games from the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships were streamed live at www.Gangneung2017.com, and statistics and results are available at www.paralympic.org/gangneung-2017/schedule-results.
Photos will be made available for media to download on the IPC’s Flickr account at www.Flickr.com/photos/paralympic.