---- — Eric Gissendanner is covering the Winter Paralympics from Sochi, Russia, for the Wheelchair Sports Federation. He is also sending journal entries of his experiences exclusively for use in the Press-Republican.
U.S. VS. CANADA: “Today was relatively calm before the night storm that was United States against Canada in sled hockey.
“It’s the longest-running and most competitive rivalry in the sled-hockey world, and tonight’s game winner earned a spot in the gold-medal game against tournament-surprise Russia. It was a game that pitted the youth and speed of Team USA against the seasoned but tactical Canadians.
“Youth and speed won as Team USA rode into the championship game with a 3-0 victory, propelled by 16-year-old Declan Farmer’s two goals. With Russia having beat Norway in the earlier semifinal match, all eyes were on the U.S.-Canada game.
“In the press area, I sat next to a Russian reporter who said how much he wanted to see a Russian and American gold-medal final. He gets his wish. Saturday is a rematch of Tuesday’s preliminary-round game, which Russia won, 2-1.
“Nevertheless, the upcoming game is monumental for both squads. Russia has never medaled in sled hockey, while the U.S. aims for its second-straight gold medal.”
HOMELAND HEROES: “As significant as the game is for the Paralympics, Russia’s finals appearance is vital toward expanding the sport within its homeland.
“The majority of Russia’s 17 Paralympic skaters live in or near Moscow. The publicity effort toward sled hockey is present. While in Moscow’s airport, there were posters and photos of the Paralympic hockey players.
“There is no doubt that these guys are becoming household names, and a gold medal would make them only more famous.”
ADVOCATE: “I say all this as an advocate for international disabled sports and as a recreational sled-hockey player.
“I want every country to adopt sled hockey (I even started talking to a guy from Australia who wants to start a team there), and a podium finish on the world’s biggest stage cements the team’s presence domestically.
“Russia needs the gold. America wants it. Let’s drop the puck.”
Eric Gissendanner is a graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh. He interned in the Sports Department of the Press-Republican and also writes for us on a freelance basis. Follow him on Twitter: @Gisser26.