TORONTO – No gold, this time. But not much hand wringing, either.
Bent on successfully defending their World Sledge Hockey Challenge title won a year ago, Team USA had to settle for silver after falling to Team Canada, 3-1, in the WSHC championship game staged at The MasterCard Centre Saturday night.
“While we would have liked to get the 'W'”, said Team USA goaltender Steve Cash, “and get the Gold Medal, “we're just going to take things in stride. Sochi is the ultimate goal.”
The World Challenge was the team's first live competition since selection camp was held in July.
The result, Cash said, should be through the prism of a bigger picture, namely the 2014 Paralympics.
“We're not going to look too far and think this is a precursor to how things are going to look in Sochi,” said Cash. “We've got what it takes in the locker room, and I have the utmost confidence in all 17 of these guys. When the time comes, we'll be able to step it up and execute.”
Team USA entered the game missing two offensive stalwarts – forwards Rico Roman and Josh Sweeney – both of whom were attending their wives college graduations.
That firepower was missed as the US fell behind – falling behind 3-0 in the first period – and never fully recovered.
“We were that far away from making good plays,” said USA coach Jeff Sauer. “We were missing the puck. Not making shots when we had to. A little bit slow on the release of the puck to the net. But it all comes with confidence.
Canada grabbed the lead on Adam Dixon's goal at 9:03, then surged to a three goal lead on goals 33 seconds apart by Billy Bridges and Greg Westlake.
Dixon's goal came on a 40-foot right hand shot that hit off a defenseman found space under the cross bar.
“It was a point shot that was going to the back door,” said Cash. “Unfortunately it was tipped. I was going to make the save and it went underneath my arm pit. That's how it goes sometimes.”
Bridges' tally came from just off the right circle while Westlake, Canada's team captain, connected off a rush down left wing.
Team USA mustered just a half dozen shots in that period, and just one dangerous scoring chance, that in the final minute of the period from Josh Pauls on a centering pass from Nikko Landeros. Pauls, however, was thwarted by Canadian goalie Corbin Watson.
“We're not used to playing from behind,” said Sauer. “But the big thing is that there are not a lot of goals scored, either way. When you get down by two or three goals, it's tough to get back in it.”
Cash said there was no sense of panic felt in the dressing room during intermission.
“It was just a matter of keeping our heads up,” he said. “Knowing we were still in the game. The funny thing about hockey is that you're never really out of the game, unlesss it's 7-0 in the third period.”
The US managed to regroup in the second period, held Canada to just three shots (while recording six of their own) and crept back to within 3-1 on Pauls' unassisted tally at 5:51.
Pauls was in a tangle of players in front of the Canada goal, and was able to pop the puck in past Watson.
That, however was as good as it got.
The US was held to just one shot in the third period and was never able to mount a serious comeback.