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U.S. faces Canada for sledge hockey gold

The United States aims to use its speed advantage to earn another international gold medal when it meets Canada on Sunday in the final of the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships at HarborCenter.

The U.S. team has won three of the previous four World Championship tournaments and the last two Paralympic gold medals – in 2010 and 2014.

“Speed is the biggest weapon they have,” said Canada coach Ken Babey. “Any time you play a speed team, you’ve got to try to deny their speed through the neutral zone, not allow them to gain their attack. That will be our major challenge.”

The gold-medal game, at 2:30 p.m., will be televised on NBC Sports Network. A couple of hundred tickets still are available at the 1,800-seat rink.

Canada is the defending champion, having beaten Team USA, 1-0, in South Korea in 2013. But the U.S. side has won the last seven meetings with Canada.

The dominant speedsters for the United States are Declan Farmer, a 17-year-old from Tampa, Fla., and Brody Roybal, a 16-year-old from the Chicago area. Farmer won an ESPY Award last year as the best male athlete with a disability. He has five goals in four games. Roybal has eight points in four games. Lancaster’s Adam Page, 23, is the leading U.S. scorer, with 10 points.

“The speed really helps us because it opens up a lot of scoring opportunities, and that’s definitely what we want to do against Canada,” said U.S. coach Jeff Sauer.

“They may pack the neutral zone, only forecheck one guy to force us to the outside,” Sauer said. “We’ll just have to wait and see and adjust to the game plan they have. But I want to force them to play our game. If we can get our guys to do that, we’ll be able to put pressure on them.”

The recent U.S. wins over Canada have been hard-fought. The U.S. side won, 2-0, in Alberta in February. The United States had wins of 2-0, 3-1 and 2-0 over Canada in an exhibition series in March in North Carolina.

“I think the guys who played in Carolina think we should have won one or two of those games, so there’s a little bit of an itch there,” Babey said.

“There’s a couple guys who played in Vancouver where the U.S. beat us on home soil, so it would be nice to get one back on them and win one on their turf,” said Canada defenseman Adam Dixon.

Canada has a sensational top line of Billy Bridges, Brad Bowden and Greg Westlake. They are 31, 31 and 28, respectively. Bridges has nine goals and a tournament-best 13 points. Bowden has 11 points and Westlake 10.

“They played every other shift,” Sauer said, referring to Canada’s semifinal win over Russia. “That’s a very good line. Hopefully our conditioning and our three lines can wear them down.”

“They move the puck really well and they don’t make many mistakes,” Page said. “We have to use our speed and our forecheck just like we’ve been doing the whole tournament and try to force them to make some mistakes.”

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com