Sochi, Russia — 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.
March 15, 2014
SOCHI: The gold medal game lived up to the hype. Despite all previous world rankings and Paralympic history, Saturday night’s championship contest between the United States and Russia in sled hockey was what it should have been — a game between the world’s best two teams. After 45 minutes and countless moments of anxiety, America prevailed, 1-0. With the win, the U.S. defended its Vancouver gold and claimed its third overall gold medal in 12 years.
Russia entered Saturday’s game having already dominated the medal count this year. The host-nation’s 69 total medals (27 gold), more than tripled the closest country. By comparison, the U.S. secured just one gold medal in snowboarding. Records and numbers all disappeared once entering Shayba Ice Arena.
The opening period was a seesaw battle, with both teams trading possessions up and down the ice. In sled hockey, a skater primarily passes more to space than to necessarily one player. This often means fewer shots on net, but those that do get on net are challenging for goalies to stop. There was no exception here as U.S. goalie Steve Cash and Russian goalie Vladimir Kamantcev both made last-second glove saves. As a shooter in sled hockey, you should aim high for the net. Goalies sit and cover more space low, leaving the top corners as prime real estate.
The first period went scoreless, with the hosts owning the puck more in their offensive zone. That all changed in the second period, when the United States — powered by speed and elusiveness — grabbed the lead off Josh Sweeney’s goal midway through the second period. Sweeney collected the puck off a Russian turnover and skated in on a breakaway for the unassisted tally. The Texas native is also one of three Wounded Warrior players who plays for Team USA.