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U.S. National Sled Team Advances to World Sledge Challenge Final

12/05/2013, 4:30pm MST
By USAHockey.com

TORONTO – Josh Pauls (Green Brook, N.J.) scored twice and Declan Farmer (Tampa, Fla.) recorded three points to help the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team defeat Russia, 4-1, in the semifinals of the 2013 World Sledge Hockey Challenge here today.

“I was pleased with our game, and we played better than we did yesterday against Canada,” said head coach Jeff Sauer. “I thought we had a much better start today than we did against Canada, but the bottom line is Russia is a good team that plays very smart hockey. I was pleased with how we adjusted to that style of play, scored some goals and got the victory.”

After a scoreless first period in which the United States held a 6-2 advantage in shots on goal but couldn’t find the back of the net, Pauls wasted little time changing that trend in the middle frame.

Just 19 seconds into the second stanza, Farmer knocked a puck to Pauls in the neutral zone, sending him in on a breakaway. Pauls deked, moved to his right and fired a shot off the crossbar and in to give Team USA a 1-0 lead.

Paul Schaus (Buffalo, N.Y.) doubled the U.S. lead when he got a stick on a rebound in the crease at 7:33 of the second. After a Josh Sweeney (Phoenix, Ariz.) attempt was stopped, Schaus won a race to the loose puck in the crease and pushed it past Russian goaltender Mikhail Ivanov.

Then, just under four minutes later, Pauls and Farmer connected again to boost the Team USA lead to 3-0. Farmer worked the play behind the Russia net and left a drop pass for Pauls at the side of the goal. Pauls got to the edge of the crease and slipped the puck in before Ivanov could get back to his post.

Farmer added an insurance marker – a power-play tally 5:33 into the final period – with help from Taylor Chace (Hampton Falls, N.H.) to close the Team USA scoring.

United States goaltender Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.) started the game in net, stopping all 12 shots he faced. Jen Yung Lee (San Francisco, Calif.) relieved Cash with 5:14 remaining in regulation and made two saves.

The U.S. National Sled Hockey Team will next play Saturday night against either Canada or Korea in the World Sledge Hockey Challenge championship game. Puck-drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. 

Team USA Schedule

Date  Opponent   Time/Result
Dec. 1 Russia W, 2-1
Dec. 2 Korea W, 5-0
Dec. 4 Canada L, 1-4
Dec. 5 Russia (Semifinal) W, 4-1
Dec. 7 Canada (Championship Game) L, 1-3

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When it comes to women’s hockey, there is no argument that USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have the two premier programs in the world. Earlier this month, their young talent took to the ice in Lake Placid, New York, as a part of the U18 and U22 Select Series.

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USA Hockey: What was it like to be a part of the U22 and U18 Select Series’

Melissa Szkola: The experience was wonderful. It was fantastic. We’ve essentially got the two best teams in the world competing against each other, so the learning experience, working with the officials that we have, is always amazing. You leave here a better person, a better official; that’s what we’re here for. That’s what I look forward to the most at these big-time events: the level of hockey and what you get out of it as a whole.

USAH: How did you first get into officiating?

Szkola: It’s been nine years since I got my start. I was a competitive figure skater and my older brother played hockey, so I’ve always been around the game, but it was my husband who actually got me into the officiating side of it. When we started dating, he was a roller and ice hockey official. He asked me to come with one time and I said ‘okay.’ That’s how I got started. It’s something he and I have in common and he is my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t be here without him.

USAH: So nine years under your belt, how would you describe some of your past IIHF events?

Szkola: I’ve had a handful of experiences with international tournaments. Each one has brought a new set of skills to my plate. You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot from your supervisors from different countries as well. To get out and work with other female officials and learn from them and your supervisors is amazing.

Being in another country, where sometimes there aren’t people who even speak English, is a really unique experience as well. The communication that you learn to speak with non-English speaking officials really makes you appreciate what you have in common – hockey.

USAH: How did the Select Series compare to those events?

Szkola: The level of play, it’s definitely much higher at the Select Series than any of the championships that I’ve been to. I wouldn’t say that the intensity is much different, because at each level they are competing for their highest achievement. The intensity is the same, the importance is the same, but the level of play is definitely much better; it’s faster, it’s crisper. Your awareness just has to be that much higher.

USAH: Did calling a game with high-caliber players like those at the Select Series shake up any nerves?

Szkola: I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous before we got on the ice. I’ve watched Team USA and Team Canada compete before, so you know the level at which they intend to play. Being out there with it, you just know where the emotions can go sometimes. It was a little nerve-wracking before the start, but as soon as that puck drops, you have a job to do. USA Hockey does a fantastic job developing us; I feel like they wouldn’t put you out there if you weren’t ready. Once that puck drops, you’re kind of at home.

USAH: What’s next for your officiating future?

Szkola: The support that I have, not only from my hometown in Michigan, but also the support and development USA Hockey has given really sets you up for success if you want to take it in that direction. That is my goal. I do want to skate in the Olympics. Moving forward I am going to continue to improve upon each experience that I have, because you can always be better. Mistakes do get made, so you learn from those and improve yourself. 

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