GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- It looked like it was over for the U.S. sled hockey team.
With one minute left in the gold-medal game at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Canada had a 1-0 lead and Team USA had an empty net after pulling goalie Steve Cash for an extra skater.
But when a Canadian shot on goal hit the post and harmlessly bounced wide, one minute remaining meant one more minute of life.
That life ended up on the stick of Brody Roybal. In the Canadian end, a cross-ice pass left the fate of Team USA in the hands of Declan Farmer. With 37.8 seconds remaining, Farmer took his shot and, at long last, found the back of the net.
Tie game and overtime.
That was the spark that Team USA needed, as Farmer scored the winner with 11:30 remaining in overtime to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead.
“It’s incredible,” Farmer said. “Especially to go to overtime. That’s what kids dream of.”
“It’s an absolutely unbelievable feeling,” said captain Josh Pauls. “To win a gold medal with such great guys and fight back the way we did is just something that we’re always going to remember.”
Of all players in the tournament to find the puck on his stick with the game on the line, Team USA was fortunate that it was Farmer. He wrapped the Paralympics as the leading goal-scorer with 11, while his 17 total points also led all players. Fittingly, he was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Roybal, with 10 goals and six assists, was named Best Forward.
“I’ll just throw it out there. Declan Farmer, in my eyes, is the greatest player alive,” said goalie Steve Cash. “He’s the best overall sled hockey player to ever play the game.”
For Team USA, the gold is its third consecutive at the Paralympic Winter Games, proving the U.S. sled hockey team has indeed become the ultimate team. No other country has been able to win more than one Paralympic gold medal since the sport debuted in 1994, while the U.S. now has four golds total.
The latest win comes just over a year after the passing of longtime head coach Jeff Sauer, who guided the U.S. to its previous Paralympic title. The players celebrated their win on the ice with a banner with the initials “JS” emblazoned on it and many dedicated their win to their former coach.
“I’ve felt Coach Sauer’s presence with me for the last year, since he passed away,” said Cash, a four-time Paralympian. “It kind of chokes me up just thinking about him up there watching down on us. So I’m proud of the way everyone played for him. And that’s what we said in the locker room before the game, is we’re going to play for him because he’s looking down on us today.”
Canada, limited to bronze in 2014 and held off the podium in 2010, was looking for its first gold since 2006 after winning the 2017 world title. The two sled hockey powers and archrivals had never faced off in the gold-medal final at the Paralympics before.
Strong defense on both sides kept scoring opportunities to a minimum for much of the first period until Canada’s Billy Bridges sniped one past Cash with 2:54 remaining to give Canada a 1-0 lead. The goal ended Cash’s shutout streak that had stood up for the duration of the Games. The first period ended with Canada holding the edge in shots on goal, 5-0.
Team USA evened the shots on goal to eight apiece after the second period, but there was still nothing on the scoreboard to show for it. There were several close calls in the third, but even a U.S. power play ultimately passed without incident. Josh Misiewicz had a chance with just over three minutes remaining in the game, but the puck bounced over his stick and the Canadian defenders cleared the threat.
For their part, none of the U.S. players let themselves think the game was over.
“[Nerves] always slip into your mind, especially as time’s ticking down in the third period,” Farmer said. “But we knew we had the team to win and we were determined to do it, not only for ourselves but for our teammates, our coaches, for coach Sauer, for everyone who meant so much to this team and helped us get here. We were going to win it for them. We had to grind for that tying goal and we knew that if we got it before overtime, we were going to win the game.”
Cash was pulled in the waning minutes of the game, giving Canada an empty net and setting the stage for the ping heard ‘round the world.
“Coach Sauer was looking out for us there,” said Pauls. “We really appreciate it and we appreciate everything he’s done for this sport. I’m just glad we could finish it out for him.”