With the home-crowd Russian fans on the side of the Italians, theUnited States defeated Italy in sledge hockey by a score of 5–1 today in both teams’ opening game at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.
The United States started the first period with possession, but much of this was on their own third of the ice. Both teams did a full line change within the first minute of play following an Italian penalty by Bruno Balossetti that resulted in a United States power player. While the USA got possession on the penalty, it was after a few seconds where who had possession was questionable. The puck then changed possession several times. Both goalies had to work in the opening minutes of the game. With 12:20 left in the first, Italy had a fast break down the ice. In defending his goal, the Team USA goalie fell over and there was a mob in front of the goal trying to move the puck. The USA managed to prevent the Italians from scoring. Following this, there was a line change and a similar pile up in front of the Team USA net at 12:13. After a penalty that saw Andy Yohe get 2 minutes for roughing, the United States got possession.
Both sides had their fans in arena, with several large Italian flags behind their team’s bench. There were a pair of United States flags. When the Italians had the puck and looked likely to score, the multitude of Russian flags were waved and the fans cheered in support of the team. The United States allowed Italy to get possession after two players crashed into each other and had to untangle their sledges. At 10:20 left, Italy managed to get a shot on goal, which the USA goalie stopped. With 10:09, both teams were to full strength. There was another pile up, this time in front of the Italian net, at 9:12 left. The United States had problems passing during much of this time, and with keeping the puck out of their third. A United States fan was screaming at the team at one point shouting, “Get it out.” Italy had several good chances but they were not able to capitalize on them. At 2:30 left, the United States and Italy were about equal with shots on goal: 4 for USA, 5 for Italy. At 2:30 left in the first, Valerio Corvino of Italy got 2 minutes in the penalty box for roughing. With 1:15, good passes by Nikko Landeros and Taylor Chance lead to a goal by Declan Farmer on a power player opportunity. Immediately following the goal, Italian Werner Winkler got a 2 minute penalty for roughing. The pace of the game slowed down in the final minutes, and there were fewer hits. The occasional United States fan chanted “USA, USA, USA.” The first period ended 1–0 in favour of the United States.
The second period started with lots of Italian cheering from the stands, while the Americans possessed the puck on the Italian third of the ice. Both teams were shorthanded, each with a player in the penalty box. The penalties were over and both teams were at full strength by 14:10 left in the second. Early in the period, Italy got a two minute penalty for too many players on the ice. The United States also addressed possession problems they had in the first period and kept the puck in front of the Italian goal. Team USA still had problems with executing passes though. Whenever the Italians got possession of the puck and looked like they might have a remote chance of scoring, the Russian fans started cheering loudly. With 3:48 left in the second, Brody Roybal scored with an assist from Declan Farmer. With 1:18 left in the second, Guiseppe Condello got a 2 minute penalty for teeing when he rammed the front of his sledge into a USA player’s sledge. The period ended 2–0 in favour of the the United States.
During the intermission, a Paralympic presenter went into the audience to talk to Team USA fans in the stands for the screens found on display in the arena. Following a little patter, she asked the fans to do the Team USA chant, which they did. In response to the requested, “USA! USA! USA!” chant, a number of people inside the arena booed.
The third period started with Team USA possession. Early in the period, Taylor Chase had a 2 minute penalty for teeing, and both teams were shorthanded with 14:38 left in the third. Italy was back at full strength by 14:17. Despite the teeing penalty, the number of collisions appeared down from earlier in the game. Both teams were at full strength with 12:33 left in the third period. With 11:56 left in the third, Joshua Sweeney got the puck, moved it down the ice and then slid it past the Italian goalkeeper to score an unassisted goal. Midway through the third period, and most of the puck possession took place on the Italian third of the ice. With 4:42 left in the third, with assists from Joshua Pauls and Nikko Landeros, Brody Roybal scored on the Italians to little applause from people in the arena. The score was 4–0. Following the goal, Team USA took a timeout and made a goalkeeper change, with Steve Cash out and Jen Lee in. With 3:26 left in the third, Team USA player Paul Schaus earned a 2 minute penalty for roughing. The Team USA goalie made a fantastic above-the-head glove save with 3:05 left in the third. With 1:26 left in the game, Italian Florian Planker scored off an assist from Gianluca Cavaliere. The stadium erupted into loud chanting, and lots of waving of Russian flags. Adam Page was injured with 1:08 left in the game, and left the ice to a round of applause from the fans. The United States’s Paul Schaus scored off an assist from Nikko Landeros with just under 5 seconds left in the game, bringing the final score to 5–1.
The United States comes into Sochi as previous Paralympic gold medalists, having won it at all at the 2010 Winter Paralympics inVancouver, . Steve Cash started for Team USA. He did not let in a single goal during the 2010 Winter Paralympics.