INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. – Standing at attention with his victorious sled hockey teammates Saturday night, defenseman Nikko Landeros heard his name announced and slowly slid to the officials’ platform. He delicately reached out during a presentation of his first-place medal. He held the prize with care.
It was the first thing the rugged defenseman handled gently here last week during the inaugural USA Hockey Sled Cup at Extreme Ice Center. Goalie Steve Cash contributed standout goaltending. Forwards Josh Pauls, Declan Farmer and Dan McCoy provided scoring punch to a balanced attack. Adding muscle, of course, was Landeros.
“I clobber people a lot,” Landeros said with a grin about 90 minutes prior to Saturday’s 5-2, cup-final victory over Korea.
Landeros proved it, totaling four penalty minutes Saturday. For the tourney, he was called for five minors.
In a team-wide effort described by coach Jeff Sauer as “undisciplined,” Team USA twice was forced to fend off two-man advantages during the first period.
“We had too many [penalties],” Sauer said.
Landeros made up for his turnstile approach to the penalty box by notching what proved to be the cup-clinching goal. He scored it with style, deking a Korean defender and gliding along the point. He “fired” a wobbly, knuckle-ball shot. It floated over the shoulder of surprised goalie Mangyun Yu (18 saves).
Sauer was asked about “the goal-scorer’s goal.” He shook his head. “You can make what you want it to be,” Sauer joked.
The U.S. outscored its three opponents 17-2 during the four-day event. The first-place finish maintains the momentum the squad has been building the past three years, coming off the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge championship last December.
“Our strength is speed and puck movement — and goaltending,” Sauer said.
Defensive depth is also proving to be an asset. Team USA last week played without top defenseman Taylor Chace. How did the players respond to a shorter rotation? They didn’t allow a goal for the tournament’s first 157 minutes 34 seconds. Landeros was asked if the defense stepped up or were the forwards providing extra help?
“A little of both,” he said.
Added alternate captain Taylor Lipsett: “It just shows how deep we are.”
Cash and backup goalie Jen Yung Lee opened the tournament last Wednesday by combining to blank the U.S. Developmental team, 5-0. The defense only allowed five shots on goal. On Thursday, in the initial matchup between Team USA and upstart Russia, Cash turned aside all 13 shots he faced in the 4-0 victory. On Friday, in the first of consecutive wins over Korea, Cash and Lee shared duties during the 3-0 victory.
Offensively, Pauls placed first in tourney scoring with two goals and five assists. In just his second appearance with the national team, Farmer, a 15-year-old forward, collected one goal and four assists. McCoy scored twice in the cup final.
The U.S. Developmental team went 0-4 during the first international competition hosted at the Extreme Ice Center. The venue is scheduled to stage additional sled hockey events in the future.
“We like it,” Landeros said. “It’s a good facility with cool people. The Logano family has been real helpful.”
The Loganos are listed as part owners of the facility. Joey Logano, the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, donated $15,000 to the sled hockey program prior to the U.S.-Russia showdown.
During Saturday’s Sled Cup final, Team USA jumped out to a 2-0 lead 6:05 into the second period on goals by forward Paul Schaus, on the power play, and McCoy.
One minute, 29 seconds after McCoy’s goal, Korea forward Seunghwan Jung registered the first tally against Team USA during the event.
Third-period goals by McCoy and forward Adam Page helped clinch the title.
Moments after the final buzzer sounded, Landeros was the first to greet Cash and centered himself in the middle of the on-ice celebration. He surely “clobbered” a few guys there, too.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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