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Sweeney Edges U.S. Sled Team Past Norway

12/02/2012, 10:00am EST
By Brian Smith

The U.S. National Sled Team opened play at the 2012 World Sledge Challenge today at the WinSport Canada Ice Complex in Calgary, Alberta with a 3-1 victory over Norway. As the defending 2011 International Paralympic Committee Sledge Hockey World Champions and having won the last three major international tournaments, Team USA looked to continue their strong play on the biggest stage.

“We came out a little rusty, being the first game of the season,” said U.S. forward Josh Sweeney (Phoenix, Ariz.), who scored the game-winning goal. “By the third period I think we got what we need to do down and started to play our game.”

Led by captain Taylor Chace (Hampton Falls, N.H.), the U.S. came out strong, against a solid Norwegian squad. Despite controlling much of the play in the first period with a healthy dose of offensive firepower and physical play, Team USA fell behind Norway late in the first period. While applying pressure on a penalty kill, the U.S. found itself trapped deep in its offensive zone. Capitalizing on the positioning, Norway flipped the puck high off the boards to Loyd Riem Pallader, who had a clear breakaway on goaltender Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.). Pallader made no mistake, firing the puck low and beating Cash on his glove side.

“We started a bit slow in the first period,” said Jeff Sauer, head coach of the U.S. National Sled Team. “We don’t score goals as well as we should and that’s frustrating. I thought in the first period we did a good job of controlling things, but we just didn’t score.”

Playing in the World Sledge Hockey Challenge, each period is reduced to 15 minutes from the usual 20. Sauer noted that this slight change could have a massive impact on the game.

“When you cut it down to 15 [minutes] it’s a lot different game,” Sauer said. “I double shifted a little bit to try to get some of our more experienced forwards on the ice and we were able to get back into the game. When you don’t have as much time as you normally do, it’s very important to score as quickly as you can.”

Kevin McKee (Davenport, Iowa), continued the U.S. pressure in the second period, getting multiple shots on net within the first few minutes of play. His persistency paid off at the 9:46 mark when he buried a rebound to tie the game at one goal apiece. From there, Team USA held Norway completely off the board, allowing zero shots on net in the second stanza.

“We definitely made all the right adjustments during the first intermission,” Sweeney said. “We learned from our mistakes and came out to play.”

In the final frame, Sweeney gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead after taking a pass from Rico Roman (San Antonio, Texas) and making a nifty move around Norwegian netminder Kristian Buen. Fifteen-year-old Declan Farmer (Tampa, Fla.) added an insurance goal with one second remaining to seal the victory. Roman picked up his second assist on the final goal and earned player of the game honors for his efforts.

“He came through for us in a big way with two assists,” said Sweeney. “He’s a playmaker. That’s just what he is.”

Team USA will take to the ice again tomorrow (Dec. 3) at 9 p.m. EST against Japan. 

“We just need to build on this momentum,” said Sauer. “If we do that, we’ll be successful.”

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