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Paralympians win gold medal <br> U.S. sled hockey team defeats Japan, 2-0

They went. They played. They conquered.

The U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team defeated Japan, 2-0, Saturday to win the gold medal in the Winter Games at Vancouver.

It was the fifth straight shutout win for Team USA during the Winter Games and the second Paralympic sled hockey gold medal for the United States.

And it was done with the help of four players from Western New York.

Alexi Salamone, 20, a forward and a veteran on the national team, scored the first of Team USA's two goals, according to a statement released by USA Hockey.

The Grand Island resident was born with deformed legs in Russia, 14 months after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. Both limbs were amputated at age 4.

"My heart goes out to them for how hard they worked. What a joy it must be for them," said Adam Page's grandmother, Dolores Gilchrese, who was staying in the family's Lancaster home while they were in Vancouver.

Page, a rookie forward, was born with the most severe form of spina bifida, with his spinal cord growing outside his body. His parents, Norm and Sandy, were told by doctors their son would never walk, probably would be blind and probably retarded. The senior at St. Mary's High School in Lancaster is headed to Medaille College in the fall to study sports management.

Gilchrese has been a caregiver for Adam since he was born, baby-sitting for him during the day as his parents worked, helping him when he practiced hockey.

"I'm very proud of him. We never treated him any different," Gilchrese said. "If he fell, he had to get up. Your heart was breaking, but you didn't show it. He's the one making us strong."

Paralympians compete at the highest level, in the same venue as the Olympic Games, but one month later.

Sled hockey, like ice hockey, is played with five skaters and a goalie on each team. The players sit inches above the ice, on aluminum sleds with skate blades. Each player carries two cutoff stick blades, using the metal teeth on one end to dig into the ice and skate, while using the blade end to shoot.

Each of the Buffalo-area athletes came to the sport after suffering an accident or developing a disability, either at birth or much later.

Mike Blabac, 34, of Buffalo is a backup goalie on the team. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001.

Brad Emerson is a forward who played on the 2006 bronze medal team. The 22-year-old Amherst resident has cerebral palsy.

The U.S. sled hockey team's four previous shutout victories that led them to the gold medal game were 5-0, against South Korea; 3-0, over the Czech Republic; 6-0, over Japan; and 6-0, versus Norway in the semifinal game.

Team USA won the gold medal in sled hockey at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, before settling for the bronze in 2006 in Turin, Italy. The team bounced back to win the world championship in the Czech Republic last year.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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