Written by Mike Doyle
SOCHI, Russia – Team USA had been marching right along with decisive wins against Italy (USA 5 ITA 1) and Korea (USA 3 KOR 0) while the host country Russia had started out slower with a tough overtime loss to South Korea and gained some momentum with a solid win against the Italian boys. Attendance for this grudge match between countries was the largest so far with 5,765 ticketed onlookers. US vs. Russia rivalries in the able bodied sport go back to USA Olympic “underdog” victories in 1960 (Squaw Valley CA) and 1980 (Lake Placid NY or “Miracle-On-Ice”; the latter pitted United Soviet Socialist Republic Red Army players against American college hockey players. Sled rivalries are less historical as the United States has had a national team since the early 1990s and the Russian program had only been seriously established since the 2014 Sochi Olympic and Paralympic Games were awarded to Russia. 2014 Team USA Sled Hockey players have the edge in speed, endurance and puck handling while the Russian squad has 4,000 of the 5,765 attendees squarely in their corner.
There was a nervous tension in the air, but little feeling out process as the US squad dominated play during the first half of the first period; literally skating circles around their Russian counterparts. The Americans had difficulty setting up the power play after #11 Alexey Amosov clutched on to one of the Americans in front of his net at the 6:45 mark. Shot total at that point was USA 9 and Russia 1. Two-thirds through the first period, Team USA got themselves into penalty trouble when gentleman and team captain #9 Andy Yohe (Bettendorf IA) was accused of “teeing”. To make matters worse, 44seconds later #28 Paul Schaus was called for charging when he put a big shoulder into a white sweater defenseman in the attacking corner.
The Americans playing two men down and all but killed of the first infraction. With just four seconds left in the first minor, the Russian captain Dmitrii Lisov fed a pass to Ivan Kuznetsov at the halfboards. Ivan inturn feathered a pass across the high slot for a picture perfect onetimer which threaded its way into the top left corner; one of the few shots that stellar netminder #34 Steve Cash (Overland MO) couldn’t stop. Shot totals for period one were USA 11 to RUS 4. The beginning of the second period brought more troubles for the hard working American squad. The Russians scored a second tally after a tough bounce off a USA back checker’s stick or bucket and into his gaping net. Both team incurred a single minor penalty without consequence during the second stanza. The boisterous crowd and the two goal deficit never held down the Americans as they continued to power through the Russian defense without results.
The well decorated American head coach Jeff Sauer never showed any sign of concern as his players were businesslike and hardworking despite the scoring shortfall. You could see concern, however, on some of the players faces during closeups before puckdrops. After the Russians burned off a minor for hooking, Adam Page #20 (Lancaster NY) halved the US deficit; scoring a nice goal off a rebound with some help from #15 Nikko Landeros (Johnstown CO) and #9 Andy Yohe. Two additional successful scoring chances were “called back” for hand pass and crease violation respectively.
Team USA ends up second in their division behind Russia and will be playing Canada on Thursday. Winner of the USA vs. CAN semifinal match on Thursday will move on to play the winner of the Norway vs. Russia semifinal in the Gold Medal match on Saturday; losers of both semifinal contests vie for third place in the Bronze Medal contest also on Saturday.