The puck will drop at the Para ice hockey competition at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games on Saturday (10 March) when Norway, the sport’s most decorated team in Winter Games history, take on Italy, which is in search of its first Paralympic medal in the sport.
Norway has medalled in Para ice hockey at all but one of the six Winter Paralympics where the sport has been contested; the nation finished fourth at the Sochi 2014 Games, losing to Canada in the bronze-medal game.
The spotlight will be on Norwegian forward Lena Schroeder, who will become the first female player to take part in Para ice hockey at the Paralympics since fellow countrywoman Bri Mjaasund Oejen participated at the Lillehammer 1994 Games. She will be joined on the ice by a veteran cast of teammates, including defenceman Rolf Einar Pedersen, competing in his ninth Paralympics, and forwards Morten Vaernes and Audun Bakke. In the team’s final training on Friday (9 March), Schroeder said she was still waiting to hear whether she will see ice time in the first game, but either way, it is a milestone for female athletes.
“It’s really fun to be here at the Paralympics,” she said. “I’m looking forward to having the Games start as it has been a long wait. Hopefully, this shows other female Para ice hockey players that they can play at a high level, too, with the guys and that it is never a problem that you’re a female player.”
In January, Italy defeated Norway, 4-3, in an overtime thriller in the semi-finals at the Torino Para Ice Hockey International Tournament. The European silver medallists, led by fierce defender Gianluigi Rosa and sharp shooting forward Sandro Kalegaris, will look to repeat that success at the Gangneung Hockey Centre.
Meanwhile, host nation and world bronze medallists South Korea will face Japan in the day’s second game, as speedy forward Seung-Hwan Jung and goaltender Man-Gyun Yu try to delight the home crowd. Japan, the Vancouver 2010 silver medallist, is returning to the Paralympic stage after failing to qualify for the Games four years ago. Four-time Paralympian Satoru Sudo, 47, will lead a core contingent of Japanese players who are over 40 years old.
“It’s very good for our team to be back at the Paralympics again,” Sudo said, speaking to a large contingent of Japanese media on-site following the team’s final training session. “We’re hoping to win at least one or two games here and hopefully our experienced players can help the newer, younger players to adapt and not be nervous on game day.”
To close out the day, reigning world champions Canada will start their PyeongChang campaign in search of its first Paralympic gold since 2006 when it faces off against Sweden. The Canadians are looking to redeem themselves after taking fourth in 2010 and then a disappointing bronze medal in 2014. Forward Tyler McGregor, who scored two goals in 13 seconds in the gold-medal final at the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships, and defenceman Adam Dixon, who led that tournament with 18 points, will anchor Canada’s squad. Sweden was the last team to qualify for the PyeongChang tournament wil,l be spearheaded by forward Per Kasperi, who will be playing in his third Paralympics at just 24 years old.