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Sled hockey Sabres put Pittsburgh away

When Adam Page slammed a penalty shot past the Pittsburgh goalie on Sunday, a Buffalo fan declared that the curse of Sidney Crosby scoring on Ryan Miller is now over.

Admittedly, it was a stretch, but why not?

If the Buffalo goalie can handle the Penguin’s Crosby the way the Sabres’ Sled Hockey team handled its Penguins’ counterpart on Sunday, then it’s probably fair to say that Crosby won’t be making any game-winning shots at the upcoming Olympic Games.

In fact, the way Page was playing Sunday, it’s also probably fair to say that the Lancaster sled hockey player will be having a great game at the upcoming Paralympic Games.

Sunday’s hockey game in East Aurora’s Healthy Zone Rink featured the sled hockey team sponsored by the Buffalo Sabres against the sled hockey team sponsored by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The game was billed as a rematch of sorts of the 2008 Winter Classic, when the Sabres and Penguins faced off at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Parts of that 2008 ice rink are now part of the East Aurora rink.

But Sunday’s game was more than a replay of sorts.

The two sled hockey teams consist of players whose disabilities – such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy or amputated limbs – prevent them from playing “stand up” hockey but don’t prevent them from being top-level athletes. In fact, one player on each team Sunday made the 2014 USA Paralympic Sled Hockey team that will compete in Sochi, Russia, in March. So Sunday’s game – which helped raise funds for the team – offered a glimpse of Olympic-quality play.

Sunday’s game also served as an inspiration to many of the 150 or so spectators, including a group of youth who arrived early for their own practice.

“It’s awesome,” said Aidan Johnson, 11, a left winger with the Hamburg Hawks youth hockey team. “They are fast.”

“It’s really cool how agile they are on one blade,” added Johnson’s teammate, Tyler Herman. “I play on my feet and never can do that. One guy can do a tight turn better than I can.”

In 2008, the Penguins beat the Sabres 2-1 with a shoot-out goal by Crosby, the Penguins superstar captain.

On Sunday, the Sabres team won 7-3, with Page getting six of the seven goals.

Page, 21, has been playing sled hockey since he was 7. He was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the knees down, but that hasn’t stopped the Medaille College student from excelling at the game he loves.

At one point Sunday, Page was taking the puck across ice, and one of his two sticks – used to propel the sled as well as carry and shoot the puck – was suddenly gone. That didn’t stop Page, whose break-away maneuvers resulted in a goal.

A short time later, all eyes were on Page again as he was alone on the ice with the Penguins goalie, taking a penalty shot.

He shot. He scored.

With that, Tony DiFilippo, president of the East Aurora Ice Association, declared: “The curse of Sidney Crosby scoring on Ryan Miller is over.”

Page is one of two players on the Buffalo Sabres Sled Hockey team going to the Paralympic Games in Sochi. The other is Paul Schaus of Buffalo, who lost his legs while serving in Afghanistan.

Schaus’ unit came under insurgent fire in 2009, and he stepped on a land mine. Schaus did not play in Sunday’s game.

The other Paralympian playing Sunday was the Penguin’s Dan McCoy of Cheswick, Pa. McCoy also has spina bifida.

With Page, Schaus and McCoy, the 2014 USA Paralympic Sled Hockey should have a good shot at a medal. The USA team won gold in 2010. Page was also on that team.

As for the USA Olympic hockey team, Sunday’s sled hockey game seems to bode well for them, too.

After all, when Crosby scored an overtime goal on Miller in the 2010 Olympics, it gave Team Canada the gold and left Team USA to accept silver – continuing the curse Crosby began two years earlier.

Miller made the USA team again in 2014. Crosby made the Canadian team again, too.

A bit of deja vu. Only this time, the curse may be lifted.


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