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Locals star for U.S. sled hockey team

With its sleds up against the wall following an opening-game loss, the U.S. Paralympics sled hockey team roared into the medal round Tuesday with its second straight convincing win -- once again powered by three Buffalo-area players.

The Western New York trio of Chris Manns of Buffalo, Brad Emmerson of Amherst and Alexi Salamone of Grand Island notched four of the Americans' six goals in a 6-1 victory over Sweden on Tuesday in Turin, Italy.

That game, coupled with the team's 3-0 win over Japan on Sunday, allowed the U.S. team to advance to the semifinals with a 2-1 record in the preliminary round.

The Americans will join Canada, Norway and Germany in the medal round Thursday, with the winners meeting Saturday for the gold medal and the losers playing for the bronze.

In the first three games, Manns, Salamone and Emmerson have been involved in seven of the U.S. team's 10 goals. Together, the three young men have notched five goals and seven assists.

"I think the three Buffalo players have been instrumental in helping the U.S. get to the medal round," a relieved Norm Page, Buffalo Sabres Sled Hockey president, said Tuesday. Page paid special tribute to the team's two "kids," Emmerson, 20, and Salamone, 18, and their mentor, the veteran Manns, 25. "For these two young kids to step up and contribute, that says volumes about Chris' leadership," Page said. "Chris has really helped these kids."

Tuesday, Manns scored two goals, while Emmerson and Salamone, who play on a line together, each had one goal and two assists.

Going into the Paralympics, the gold-medal-defending Americans were considered one of three favorites, along with Canada and Norway, in the eight-team field. But the U.S. lost its first game, 2-1, to Germany, forcing the team to have to win its second and third games.

"My first instinct was to say it was a very young team," Page said. "We took a chance with such a young team, but they pulled it all together."

With no small contribution from three young men who call Buffalo home.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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