Coach Mike Sertich, who has been a lifelong friend of our head coach, Jeff Sauer, has attended many of our training camps over the last four years. He always has great stories, hilarious jokes and priceless words of wisdom not just about hockey, but also about life. One thing he has told us all year long that we have really hung onto is that “it’s not about winning every game, but about winning the right games!” As a competitor, you never think about losing and never want to lose, but we were sure glad Serty has been pounding that one-liner into our brains all season on Tuesday night!
After winning our first two games, the showdown against the hosts, Russia, didn’t go our way. We got no bounces from the hockey gods, and couldn’t capitalize on our almost 20 scoring chances. Ultimately we fell short, 2-1, against the Russians, and would be matched up against our archrivals from the north, Canada, in the semifinal game.
We have played Canada a number of times this season, virtually splitting the season series with them. We know what they bring to the table, and they know what we bring to the table. The promising thing on our end, though, was the fact that we knew we had not played our best hockey against them all season. The semifinal would ultimately come down to execution and who could play their best hockey! And on Thursday night, it was all Team USA! Our “young guns” line — Declan Farmer (16), Brody Roybal (15) and Josh Pauls (21) — came to prove something to the world Thursday night, and boy was it fun to watch! Their speed was too much for Canada, and they used the bigger, Olympic-size rink perfectly to their advantage. They were flying around the rink, fore-checking, back-checking, and driving the puck deep and wide into the offensive zone! At the end of the first period, Declan had already tallied two world-class goals to put Team USA up 2-0. In the second period, we tightened up the defense, and our all-military line of Rico Roman, Josh Sweeney and Paul Schaus went to work on shutting down Canada’s top line and their power play! This was no easy feat, as Canada’s top line of Westlake, Bowden, and Bridges is one of the best lines in the history of sled hockey, but tonight they were no match for our shutdown line! Even on back-to-back power plays, Sweeney and Schaus shut Canada down, and controlled much of the play in the Canadian zone, despite being down a man. Shortly after the penalties expired, the young guns were back at it, and Farmer capped off his three-point night with a beautiful assist to Josh Pauls who was flying down the slot. Pauls slid a one-timer just under the goalie’s outreached arm to give Team USA a little breathing room and a 3-0 lead going into the third period! The third period was more of the same from the Team USA defense, and with a couple big saves from goaltender Steve Cash, Team USA went home with a 3-0 win over the Canadians!
We knew we were going to have to play Canada eventually, we just thought it was going to be in the gold-medal game. Since we didn’t win all of our preliminary games, we had to play them a couple of days early, but in the end, we won the right game. Now the stage is set for an epic rematch with the host country on Saturday night! This will be Russia’s first-ever gold-medal game appearance, while it will be Team USA’s fifth consecutive appearance in an International Paralympic Committee gold-medal game! This is what we have dreamed about. The last four years of blood, sweat and sacrifices come down to one more game. Forty-five minutes of hockey stand between our dream and us, between us and our promise to each other! With just one more “right” game on the schedule, we have one last assignment! And one thing we know for sure is that history will be made on Saturday night!