Sled hockey prepares for semifinal versus Norway

March 18, 2010, 12:14 a.m. (ET)

The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team will compete for a medal at this year’s 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. The question to be answered on Thursday night is for what color medal it will be vying.


Team USA and Norway are facing off in the Paralympic Winter Games semifinals for the second consecutive tournament. In Torino, Italy, in 2006, it was Norway who emerged with a 4-2 victory and a ticket to the gold-medal game. Nine players on the U.S. squad were part of that team, and all believe this year’s version of Team USA has improved since four years ago.


“We’re a young team now, but a lot of us gained a lot of experience four years ago,” said Taylor Lipsett (Mesquite, Texas), who leads Team USA with four goals in its three games so far. “We’re faster and better conditioned, and we’re capitalizing on more of our chances.”


The U.S. advanced to Thursday’s game after claiming Group A’s top seed with a 6-0 victory over Japan on Tuesday night. In three preliminary-round games, Team USA has yet to surrender a goal while scoring 14 of its own. Norway, on the other hand, enters Thursday’s affair stumbling, having posted a 1-1-0-1 record in Group B, including a shootout victory over the seventh-seeded Sweden and a 5-0 loss to Canada.


But Team USA cannot expect a free pass to Saturday’s gold-medal game. The U.S. posted a 1-1-0-1 record against Norway during the 2009-10 season, with its only regulation win coming in a game in which Norway’s star Rolf Pederson did not play due to suspension. A plucky team that has participated in every gold-medal game since sled hockey was introduced to the Paralympics in 1994, Norway is sure to put up a fight.


“No one is overlooking Norway,” added Lipsett. “They have a good team, and Pederson’s been one of the best in the world for a long time now. We’ve worked hard over the last few years to make the gold-medal game in every tournament we play in, and we hope to do that here too.”


One final piece of fodder for Thursday’s match-up: these were the same two teams that met in the title game of the International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic, last May. Team USA took the contest, 1-0, with the game-winning goal coming off the stick of captain Andy Yohe (Bettendorf, Iowa) with just 11 seconds remaining in regulation.


Thursday night’s game may prove to be even more pressure-packed.