GANGNEUNG, South Korea — In 1812, the Canadian forces tried to invade the USA, but after heavy damages to both militaries fighting the war, the United States navy was able to resist, even with heavy pressure. Fast forward to March 18, 2018. History repeated itself. The United States withheld an attack from a very good Canadian team led by Captain Greg Westlake. Team USA Sled Hockey, led by Captain Josh Pauls and Declan Farmer, took home the gold medal for the third straight Paralympic Games. The final score was 2-1 in OT.
For Team Canada, the home team wearing red with the white maple leaf, it was Dominic Larocque in goal looking across the ice at Steve Cash for Team USA. Both men had yet to let in a goal, all Paralympics long. However, there were two goals looming over the United States: the one in the Italy game, and the one that gave Canada the Championship in the World Cup.
Team USA would be without Defenseman Tyler Carron, who was suspended for the last game against Italy — disqualified at the end of the second period of that game due to abuse of an official. Also not dressed for the match was Defenseman Nikko Landeros, who was coming off a hat trick against Italy in the semi-finals. This meant that the USA would be starting Josh Pauls at Defense along with Billy Hanning Jr.
It was high noon at the Gangneung’s version of the O.K. Corral, the world was watching from the sidelines as this duel was about to take place between the two top seeds of the world. The puck was in the refs hands as the bell sounded. The official dropped the puck at center ice and it was on.
Canada won the opening face off. Both teams were clobbering each other with hard hits, but it was the Canadians who broke through with 2:54 left in the first period. It was Billy Bridges (6) who put the biscuit in the basket on a ricochet off the glove of Steve Cash, assisted by Ben Delaney and Liam Hickey. The Score was 1-0. It was the first deficit all tournament for the United States. This was also the closest lead for team Canada leaving the first period. The United States had no shots on goal in the first period of play. For Cash it was his first goal allowed since Sochi 2014. Rather than fold under pressure, Cash then went on to save everything that came his way and his teammates stood behind him.
“Steve Cash is the best player in the world,” said teammate Declan Farmer, “he kept us in the game… regardless.”
Canada was a team unlike the U.S. had never seen before, as much as the USA kept hitting them hard, and the northern lights of Canada still kept shining.
Team USA’s first Shot on goal came with 13:53 remaining in the second period. At 11:51 left in the second, Canada crashed into the net, and an official review was called. The crowd was getting anxious, chants of “CAN-A-DA!” vs. “U-S-A!” were percolating throughout Gangneung Hockey Centre and the question was: “was it a goal”? After much debate over the headphones, no. it was not. The score remained 1-0 in favor of Canada. That’s how the period would end as well, and the shots on goal were even at eight per team.
At the start of the third period, the in-arena announcers dared the audience to break the sound record in the arena, which was sitting at 108.1 Db. It was broken: 108.9 Db. They were ready. The puck dropped and together everyone was blasted off toward hockey history.
With just over a minute remaining in the third, things got interesting, Canada’s #6 Rob Armstrong got the puck and shot on an empty net, cleared by the United States in favor of an extra player. It hit the pipe, and Team USA did not go gently into that good night. It was Princeton University Student and PyeongChang stand out Declan Farmer, with 38.7 seconds left, scoring with assists from Kevin McKee and Brody Roybal. The game was tied. We were headed to extra hockey.
Before the game, Declan’s Father Matt Farmer said how honored he is to have Declan as his son,
“We’re so proud of Declan. He’s taken around the world with his hockey and we’re so happy that he found his way in this sport.”
Declan responded, “I couldn’t have gotten here without my parents, my brother, and they are huge part of how I got here. They drive me to practice when I was a little kid and making sacrifices by driving me to tournaments…so they are as much a part of this as I am.”
Was Papa Farmer ever so proud of his son after the match. In overtime, at the 48:30 mark, Declan received a pass from Josh Pauls and brought the gold home to the United States with one swing of the stick. It hit the back of the net. His second goal of the day and The United States Sled Hockey team stormed the ice. They had done it. Shades of Sochi, coming back from a deficit, going to overtime and winning the whole thing. Redemption for Team USA who have regained the #1 ranking in the world after losing it at this past World Cup.
As it turns out, when the puck hit the pipe, Coach Guy Gosselin nearly had what he called a, “Stage 9 plus heart attack”. He continued, “We kind of regrouped and went down the ice our guys did a nice job of going around the ice tonight.“
Now that the PyeongChang campaign is over and Canada went home with silver, their Captain Greg Westlake, who said this would be his final games, doesn’t know what the future holds. Whether he comes back is still up in the air.
“I have no idea man, but I’ll tell you the last few weeks here was the most fun I have ever had playing hockey and in the last three years. I’ll tell you I those guys, and I wish them all the best.”
For Team USA Sled Hockey the third time’s a charm, but for players like Forward Jack Wallace it’s beginner’s luck. When asked what a gold medal tastes like, he responded,
“I don’t know actually I bumped my tooth on it pretty hard and I was bleeding there for a second. But it tastes like the best thing in the world right now.”
Team USA standout Rico Roman stayed true to his word: “This is America’s gold,” he proclaimed as he held up the 10 pound golden orb, “I got real emotional out there with my teammates and the overall feeling of leaving it all on the ice, getting out there, sweating bleeding… you can see it on our jerseys. I mean, it was all left on the ice and it paid off when it needed to.”
Captain Josh Pauls, says he doesn’t know about playing again for Team USA, but if Team USA calls, he would think about coming back.
“I’m not thinking that far ahead because I wanna just celebrate with friends and family.”
The same can be said for Steve Cash who made certain that reporters know there is a big question mark on a possible Beijing 2022 visit, he said he’s, “Taking it day by day,” continuing, “That’s a question that I get a lot. And I’m just living in the moment right now.”
Brody Roybal, who going into the match with Canada was the overall points leader of the tournament, was named MVP of the Paralympics. As it turns out there was no points battle between Farmer and Roybal, as they were just there to have fun for Team USA,
“We’re just here to play our best for the USA, and we got what we came for. We’re just two guys on the ice having fun,” added Roybal.
There were signs all over the arena saying, “JS” in honor of their late head coach Jeff Sauer who died of Cancer last year suddenly. Some players believed that Jeff was in the building when Armstrong hit the pipe on the open net. Whether or not Sauer was looking down from above is questionable. What is not, is that The United States can now claim once again that they are the best sled hockey team in the world.