Three proud Western New York athletes returned home Monday, with bronze medals draped around their necks, after helping the U.S. Paralympics sled hockey team capture the bronze over the weekend in Turin, Italy.
They were met with fanfare by family and friends at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
The local trio -- Chris Manns of Buffalo, Brad Emmerson of Amherst and Alexi Salamone of Grand Island -- once again played a key role in the bronze-medal game Saturday, with two goals and two assists in America's 4-3 win over Germany.
Manns, 25, the veteran of the local group, had a goal and an assist in Saturday's game.
"It's definitely not what we went there for -- we went there to defend the gold and bring the gold back home," Manns said after arriving at the airport. "It's disappointing, but any time you can bring back any kind of medal from that level of competition, you've got to be happy with it."
Manns said the United States fielded the youngest team in the tournament, with most of its players between 15 and 24 years old.
Emmerson, 20, told greeters he can't wait to get back to his American food menu.
Salamone, 18, said he wanted to "get acclimated back here by enjoying my friends and family."
Manns was somewhat of a coach for the other two, said his father, Alfred Sr.
"He was breaking them in, showing them the ropes," the Outokumpu American Brass retiree said while waiting for the plane to land. "He wants to finish his college education, and he'd like to get into coaching, because he's getting older."
He said his son's life dream was to play hockey, until a train accident on March 16, 1991, claimed his right leg and left foot.
Manns' older brother, Leonard, 29, added: "Even though you go through a tragedy like that in your life, you can still come out on top with something -- and be a part of something that really means something. It's a good thing for all kids in that type of situation. These guys are role models for the handicapped. It just goes to show: Never give up."
Manns' mother, Michele, said his doctors predicted that then-10-year-old Chris would never ride a bicycle again, "but he was riding a bike in the first year."
Manns said he plans to pursue a degree in criminal justice at Niagara County Community College..
The U.S. team was one of three favorites to win gold this year but lost its chance in a 4-2 loss to Norway on Thursday, setting up the bronze-medal game against Germany. Canada later beat Norway, 3-0, for the gold.
"I'm just happy they were able to bring a medal home," said Buffalo Sabres Sled Hockey President Norm Page. "They worked so hard. I'm proud of all three of them. They're our heroes."
After supporting the U.S. Paralympics team for 13 years, the Buffalo Sabres collaborated with the players this year and lent them the Sabres name, Page said.
"There's 15 kids picked from the whole country, and three of them are from Western New York," Page added. "It's good for young kids that have disabilities to see what they can accomplish."
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