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U.S. edges out Canada in national para hockey battle

After playing the U.S. team to a 2-2 draw in the first of their exhibition games, the Canadians dropped a 2-0 decision Saturday at the WMC. [Damon Maclean]

In the natural on-ice rivalry between Canada and the U.S., the American para hockey team has had the advantage in recent years. That was the case again last week as the two national teams took to the ice at the Woolwich Memorial Centre in Elmira.

After posting a 2-2 tie in the opening exhibition match February 13, the stage was set for a deciding game Saturday in which the U.S. team emerged with a 2-0 victory.

Beyond the score, however, it was a chance to showcase the sport following Team Canada’s weeklong training camp at the WMC.

At Saturday’s game, staff and volunteers encouraged spectators to choose their seats facing the teams’ benches if it was their first time attending a para hockey game. For these sledge hockey games, the regular boards in front of the benches are replaced by glass so that the players can see out onto the ice when they are catching their breath and are anticipating a shift change.

There was also a section reserved for members of the Woolwich Thrashers sledge hockey team. Scheduled to go on during first intermission, the Thrashers were the hosts of the night, taking to the ice to display their talent and love of the sport in front of the home crowd.

Children lined up and waved at the teams as they took to the rink. The teams started off with pre-game practice, which appeared to be half preparation and half attempt at intimidating the other side.

The two national teams, with players from across their respective countries, took to the ice after some pre-game ceremonies. The action got underway immediately, though neither team managed a goal in the opening period, with the U.S. squad outshooting the Canadians 7-2.

Team USA landed the first penalty of the game when Kevin McKee got called for teeing – charging another player head-on with a sled – the sole penalty unique to the world of sledge hockey.

After the first period, the game polarized. Canada increased the intensity level and ended up keeping the puck in the offensive zone for a good length of time and allowing them to successfully outshoot the States 6-2.

The first example of displayed aggression occurred 8:10 minutes into the period where a roughing call was placed against Canada’s Tyrone Henry. Then at 12:19 on the game clock, a brawl erupted between the two teams, it took all the referees and all of their dedication to tear the players apart. USA goalie Steve Cash was the first to throw a punch, he was also the first player involved in the altercation to skate off while the others continued. Roughing calls were made and handed out to Canadian players Auren Halbert and Greg Westlake, as well as American players Cash and Ralph DeQuebec they each received two minutes.

In the third, Team USA got off to a quick start, scoring just 16 seconds after play resumed. Travis Dodson managed to bump a defender’s stick in front of the net, allowing the puck to slide straight in.

With the U.S. up 1-0, it was still anyone’s game. The play went back and forth until, at 13:35, the U.S. added another goal, this time from Jack Wallace.

While Team Canada goalie Dominic Larocque stopped 13 of 15, his American counterpart was perfect in stopping all 10 shots he faced.

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