By Gary SheftickMarch 17, 2014
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 17, 2014) -- A goal by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Josh Sweeney won gold for USA's Sled Hockey Team in a 1-0 victory over Russia March 15.
The win made Team USA a three-time Paralympic hockey champion and the first to take gold in the event at two consecutive games. This year overall, USA won a total of 18 medals at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games: two gold, seven silver and nine bronze medals.
In sled hockey, Team USA came back after losing to Russia, 2-1, in a preliminary round March 11 at Shayba Arena in Sochi. USA had bested Italy, 5-1, on the first day of competition and they had beaten Korea, 3-1, on March 9.
In their third game, Team USA began strong with 11 shots on goal in the first period compared to Russia's four. Russia scored the first goal however, with a five-on-three power play at 11:57 into the game. Russia scored again at 2:37 into the second period when a rebound bounced off a U.S. player into the net.
In the third period, Adam Page of Lancaster, N.Y., scored and brought USA within a goal. A few minutes later, USA appeared to tie the game when Taylor Chace of Hampton Falls, N.H., hit the puck into the net, but the referee ruled interference with the Russian goalie.
The loss to Russia put USA up against unbeaten Canada in the semifinals.
Declan Farmer of Tampa, Fla., made the first goal against the Canadians at 9:12 into the game, then scored again at 14:04. Just before five minutes into the second period, Josh Pauls of Green Brook, N.J., scored to put USA up 3-0. USA goalie Steve Cash of Overland, Mo., made 11 saves during the game to keep the Canadians scoreless and set the United States up for a rematch against Russia for the gold.
Team USA began the final with a power play at 1:37, but the first quarter went scoreless as the Russians made two shots on goal against one by the U.S. Then 9:28 into the second period, Sweeney stole the puck from the Russians. Charging toward the goal, the Marine veteran who lost both his legs from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2009, fired a shot high, just over goalie Vladimir Kamantcev and into the net for the score.
Russia had opportunities to even the score with two power plays and three more shots on goal, but couldn't get the puck past USA's defense. Goalie Cash made a total of six saves during the game.
The medal ceremony immediately followed the game, with Russia taking silver. The bronze went to Canada as they had defeated Norway 3-0 earlier in the day. After the ceremony, all players remained on the ice for a thunderous standing ovation that lasted several minutes.
Staff Sgt. Jen Lee, backup goalie and a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, was there on the ice for the standing ovation. Retired Army Staff Sgt. Rico Roman, of Portland, Ore., was also there enjoying the moment after his hard-fought game.
USA's other gold medal at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games was won by Evan Strong of Nevada City, Calif., in Men's Para Snowboard Cross-Standing, March 14. Strong finished with a three-run cumulative time of 1:43.61. He beat out USA teammates Michael Shea of Castaic, Calif., who took silver with a time of 1:44.18 and Keith Gabel of Ogden, Utah, who earned bronze with a cumulative time of 1:47.10.