The USA won the first-ever IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Pan Pacific Championships on Saturday (2 April), defeating Canada, 4-1, in yet another thrilling installment of the great North American rivalry in the sport.
With the tournament win on their home ice at the HARBORCENTER in Buffalo, New York, the USA are now the reigning Paralympic, world and Pan Pacific champions, extending their recent dominance in the sport across all tournaments.
“It’s a feeling of elation,” US goaltender Steve Cash said. “Every season we begin, you’ve got to get the momentum going again. Every season’s a fresh start beginning in August and September, so to have it culminate in something like this shows that the hard work pays off.”
The gold-medal game proved to be the Declan Farmer show, as the 18-year-old forward netted a pair of impressive scores in the second period to finish his season with 13 goals, a new single-season record for the US national sledge hockey team.
Following a scoreless first period that included a shot off the post by Canada’s Ben Delaney and a massive Canadian chance turned aside by Cash, the home team erupted for three scores in the second.
In a three-minute span, Farmer took the loose puck in the crease in for a score before Chris Douglas stole the puck off the draw, tucking it under the crossbar for his first goal as a member of the US national team.
With 2:46 left in the period, Farmer, fed by line partner Brody Roybal, fired one high to the back of the net to solidify the USA’s lead.
Tyler McGregor, a world champion in 2013, worked incessantly to try to get some offense going for Canada in the third period, but Cash was turning away everything that came his way. McGregor finally powered through to score from the left faceoff dot with 3:39 to go.
But 2:12 later, Kevin McKee fired right back with an empty-net goal to push the USA’s lead back to three before the game came to a close.
Farmer was named the tournament’s Best Forward after leading all skaters with eight points and six goals, while Josh Pauls was named Best Defenseman and Canada’s Corbin Watson honoured as Best Goaltender.
Earlier in the day, South Korea, which was promoted to the A-Pool last season, escaped a late rally from Team Pan Pacific in the final minutes to capture the bronze medal with a thrilling 3-2 victory.
The next Paralympic Winter Games host nation came out striking to give themselves an early first-period advantage that would last the rest of the game. Just 4:16 into the contest, Byeong-Seok Cho scored off a pass from speedy Seung-Hwan Jung for his second goal of the tournament, and about 10 minutes later, former wheelchair fencer Jong-Ho Jang found the net on a power play to double their lead.
It only took 25 seconds into the second stanza for Young-Jae Cho to pad that lead at three with an even-strength score.
In final period, Team Pan Pacific’s Mathieu Trudeau fired the puck past Man-Gyun Yu, with the assist credited to Jack Wallace before Noah Grove took it to the net off the hands of Shinobu Fukushima to close the gap to one with 3:50 left in the game.
But Yu, who did not start playing sledge hockey until he was 32, recorded 18 saves on the day and was able to hold off Team Pan Pacific’s final shot attempts to secure the last spot on the podium for South Korea.
Complete results and statistics from the inaugural Pan Pacific Championships can be found at www.Paralympic.org/Buffalo2016. The event is one of two regional tournaments being held this month, with the 2016 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey European Championships coming up next from 5-10 April in Ostersund, Sweden.