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Team USA wins gold in sledge hockey

The United States came out hitting early, showed off its skill late and defeated Canada, 3-0, to win the gold medal Sunday in the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships.

A full house of 1,598 at HarborCenter, the largest ever to watch the U.S. team play on home ice, saw a thoroughly entertaining exhibition of hockey, as both teams traded hits and scoring chances up and down the ice. It was the second sledge game ever to be nationally televised live in the United States.

“These guys don’t play in front of a lot of fans normally, and we haven’t had a lot of home games,” said U.S. coach Jeff Sauer. “We’ve had 500, 600 people at times. But this was a great crowd, it was a great atmosphere, and I think we sold the sport today.”

“Both Canada and the U.S. got an opportunity to see these athletes perform,” Sauer said. “Both teams played hard, and it was a great hockey game. You could sell tickets to this game today.”

Team USA won the gold medal for the third time in the last four world championships. The U.S. team also has won the last two Paralympic Winter Games, and it stretched its winning streak over Canada to eight straight games.

Both Western New Yorkers on the U.S. team made their presence felt.

Paul Schaus, a 26-year-old who lives in North Tonawanda, made numerous big hits in the first period to help set a rugged tone for the Americans. Schaus is one of four U.S. Marine Corps veterans who are Purple Heart recipients on the team. Lancaster’s Adam Page, 23, had an assist on the second goal.

“Any time us and Canada get together, it’s going to be a physical game,” Schaus said. “We both play North American-style hockey, so when you go in the corners you expect to get hit. You want to jump on them right off the bat and get a little intimidation in there.”

“Paul is one of the best forecheckers and leaders on our team,” said U.S. forward Declan Farmer. “He set the tone.”

Tight checking allowed the U.S. team to neutralize the high-scoring Canadian line of Billy Bridges, Brad Bowden and Greg Westlake, who had combined for 34 points in the first four games. Team USA held a 21-8 advantage in shots.

“It’s a hockey game and you expect physical play,” Sauer said. “We knew coming in Canada was a physical team they’re going to come after us and try to slow us down. I thought we went nose to nose with them pretty much all the way through. I wanted to make sure when Bridges and Westlake had the puck we were on them right away.”

Farmer got the first goal with 12:02 left in the game when he took a pass from Brody Roybal in the right face-off circle and had time to stick-handle under his legs before scoring low just inside the right post.

“We were shooting high on him all game and it wasn’t working out,” said Farmer, a 17-year-old from Tampa, Fla. “He was making good saves. So I tried to mix it up a little and go low.”

Dan McCoy scored off a pass from Page with 7:44 left. Then Josh Pauls scored an empty-net goal with 22 seconds left.

“It’s amazing being in front of the home crowd and seeing family in the stands,” Schaus said. “It’s just an awesome victory.”

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com