WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. – Several world-class players were on display in the Tier I championship game between Colorado and Chicago on Sunday afternoon to close out the 2023 USA Hockey Sled Classic. As such, it would have been foolish to expect anything less than a display of crisp passing, explosive breakouts, high-percentage scoring opportunities and a bevy of great saves.
The Avalanche and Blackhawks did not disappoint, especially through the first two periods, after which Colorado clung to a 2-1 lead. The floodgates opened for the Avs in the third period when Declan Farmer scored four of his six goals to secure a 9-3 win.
It was a quite a homecoming for Farmer, who assisted on the other three goals for a nine-point game. The Tampa native, who attended high school at Berkeley Prep, about 30 miles south of AdventHealth Center Ice, finished the weekend with 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points in four games.
“It is nice to see my extended family and some high school friends come out and offer their support,” Farmer said after he and his teammates posed with the championship trophy. “A lot of them had not seen sled hockey in person before. They have watched it on TV, but it is a different story to come out and watch top-level action.”
What they saw was an impressive Avalanche team Farmer joined after moving to the Colorado last spring. Not surprisingly, he immediately meshed with a core that has been together for a few years. The team’s experience playing with each other showed all weekend.
“We skate together a few times per week, so we built up tons of chemistry over the last couple of years and it has shown on the ice,” said Farmer, who scored four goals in a 10-1 win over Chicago earlier in the weekend. “We kept the tempo on them the whole game even after a slow offensive start. That’s why you saw all those goals. There’s a lot of hard work forecheckingand banging bodies throughout the game.”
Before Farmer’s scoring exploits stole the show, Colorado goalie Jen Lee had to be superb. Lee made several big saves, including one off fellow U.S. National Sled Hockey Team member Brody Roybal midway through the second period with the Avs up 2-1.
Malik Jones, who had 15 goals in four games during the tournament, had a couple nifty assists on Farmer goals.
“What’s even more amazing about Declan is that he brings up everyone around him,” said Will Kinghorn, the coach for Colorado. “He gets a lot of goals, but he gets a lot of help from his teammates. These guys play off each other so well.”
On the same rink about 30 minutes before Colorado won its championship, Pittsburgh celebrated a 2-0 win over Minnesota to capture the Tier II Stars title.
Pittsburgh’s Erik Knotts scored both goals and goalie Lance Hupkovichstopped 21 shots for a championship-sealing shutout.
“We knew what we had to do coming into the game,” said Knotts. “Our forecheck worked really well and everybody came together to play a great team game.”
Knotts gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the second when he buried a loose puck in front of Wild goaltender Ben Schmitz. At 3:42 of the third, Knotts gave the Pens a little breathing room when he stuffed the puck inside the right post.
The Wild had an opportunity to come within a goal but could not muster a serious threat on a power play midway through the third period. Schmitz was pulled with a little more than a minute to play, but Pittsburgh prevented any prime scoring chances.
“When it comes down to it, we know we can count on our teammates and trust each other to be in the right spots to make plays,” said Knotts. “It worked out and we could not be happier with the result.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.