Written by Eric Gissendanner
SOCHI — “Gold or Bust” had been the year-long mantra for the United States sled hockey team. Saturday night, the team followed through by beating Russia, 1-0, for the gold medal. The U.S. defended its gold from Vancouver in 2010, while also becoming the first country to win three gold medals.
Aided by Josh Sweeney’s unassisted goal at 9:28 of the second period, the U.S. relied on its defense to stifle a Russian squad that entered the game with the second-most tournament goals at 16. Three days earlier, Russia defeated the U.S., 2-1, in a preliminary round game. That win propelled the host nation to a top-seed in the pool, while the U.S. held steady in second.
All records, for what those are worth, were tossed out as the final four teams battled in a single-elimination format for the gold. Russia beat Norway, and then the U.S. knocked off Canada. That set the stage for a perennial U.S. power against an unlikely sled hockey Russian foe. Though steeped in Olympic history, Russia’s Paralympic success lacked prior to this year. Perhaps it was that lack of success coupled with home ice that pushed Russia to a completely new level. Whatever the cause, the Russians played and played well.
“They’re a fast and physical team,” U.S. defenseman Taylor Chace said. “They come at you and you’ve got to be ready to respond. Our guys knew that they had to match the physicality.”
The U.S. matched the physicality and then some. The forward line of Declan Farmer, Josh Pauls and Brody Roybal continued to show their speed and agility. At 21-years-old, Pauls is the veteran of the trio, having competed in the Vancouver Games. Pauls is also the player who can win any race for the puck.
Pauls’ talents were hardly the only highlights from the game. Farmer was robbed just two minutes before Sweeney’s goal, when his backhand shot was gloved away by Russian goalie Vladimir Kamantcev. Kamantcev finished the day with three saves on four shots. His counterpart, U.S. goalie Steve Cash, who collected six saves for the win.
“Stevie was just on tonight,” Chace said. “We left him out a few times, but he’s good enough to bounce back for a save.”
Chace and Cash are among two of the three veterans from the 2006 Torino Games. Joining Cash and Chace is forward Taylor Lipsett. Lipsett said he plans to retire from international sled hockey. He also, though, did not completely rule out temporary retirement.
“Ever since 2006, I’ve grown as a player and person,” Lipsett said. “Right now, I’m interested in working more and possibly stating up a family.”
Regardless of where he ends up, Lipsett has the backing of his teammates. The two-time gold medalist is more than deserving of this proper send off.