Taylor Lipsett and the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team face two international opponents and a strong U.S. developmental squad on home ice Jan. 23-26.
|2013 Sled Cup
Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail, N.C.
Wednesday, Jan. 23
4:10-6:10 p.m. - Korea vs. Russia
6:50-8:50 p.m. - USA vs. USA Development
Thursday, Jan. 24
4-6:00 p.m. - USA Development vs. Korea
6:40-8:40 p.m. - Russia vs. USA
Friday, Jan. 25
4:10-6:10 p.m. - USA Development vs. Russia
6:50-8:50 p.m. - USA vs. Korea
Saturday, Jan. 26
4:30-6:30 p.m. - 3rd Place vs. 4th Place
7:10-9:10 p.m. - 1st Place vs. 2nd Place
This time, Team USA is the international ice hockey power and Russia is the underdog. Taylor Lipsett paused for a moment and then laughed: “No miracles are going to happen here.”
Lipsett, of course, hinted at the “Miracle on Ice” outcome during the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games when college-aged Americans famously upended a squad of Soviet professionals in a medal-round semifinal.
“Everything is reversed,” Lipsett, a forward, said. “Hopefully, it will not be that close.”
The first sled hockey match between Team USA and Russia will be an early-round highlight during the upcoming 2013 USA Hockey Sled Cup. The four-team tournament will be staged Wednesday through Saturday at the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail, N.C. Rounding out the field will be South Korea and the U.S. national developmental team.
“This is a primer tournament (for the world championships) and we take it seriously,” goaltender Steve Cash said.
Team USA has captured gold medals at three consecutive major international competitions: the International Paralympic Committee World Sledge Hockey Championships in 2009 and 2012 and the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
Russia, meanwhile, remains somewhat of an unknown.
“We’ve never played Russia before,” said Lipsett, who is from Mesquite, Texas. “Russia is a new program and they just stepped on the big international stage in 2012. They beat the Czech Republic (recently) and are coming in with confidence.”
A key, as always in hockey, will be goaltending and line depth. Team USA appears to have both elements covered.
Regarding the line depth, Lipsett said: “We roll three lines every game and seriously, we could put anyone out there against anyone in the world. I’m 25 and considered a veteran. We’re deep and we’re young.”
Not only did Lipsett win the gold as part of Team USA’s sled hockey team in Vancouver but he also earned a bronze at the Paralympic Winter Games in Torino in 2006.
Goaltending is also a strong suit for the Americans. Cash recorded five shutouts during an enlightening 2010 Paralympic performance. No other goalie has accomplished that feat. Cash was honored by ESPN with an ESPY Award for “Best Male Athlete with a Disability.” Two years later, the whole experience remains surreal.
“It definitely is,” said the 23-year-old Cash, who joined the national team in 2005 and is a two-time Paralympic medalist. “A few years later, it probably still hasn’t sunk in.”
Said Lipsett: “He’s the best goalie in the world. His anticipation. His quickness. They rival able-bodied goalies. He is super quick. He snags everything.”
Cash sees South Korea as a possible hurdle in the Cup finals.
“They have proven themselves,” Cash, of Overland, Mo., said. “I think they will be our biggest challenge.”
The Extreme Ice Center has been home to the national sled team since 2009. Each month, the players assemble from across the country to practice at the suburban Charlotte, N.C., rinks. The Sled Cup will be the venue’s first international competition.
“We look forward to welcoming Korea and Russia for the Sled Cup,” said Dan Brennan, general manager of the U.S. National Sled Team. “They’ll have a chance to see some of the best players in the world.”
After arriving in the Queen City Monday, Team USA planned two practices Tuesday and one on Wednesday morning before opening the tournament at night against the USA Developmental squad.
One of the turning points back in the 1980 “Miracle” matchup occurred when Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak was pulled after allowing a long rebound and game-tying goal with one second left in the first period. Tretiak was considered the one of the best goalies in the world at the time.
Cash laughed off any thoughts of a similar lapse against Russia.
“That’s not in my plans,” Cash said. “On our soil, we’re not going to let someone come in and show us up.”