Share this article

print logo

Sled-hockey players astound fans during exhibition series

Norm Page, USA Hockey's point man for sled hockey, calls it "the look."

It's the look on the faces of the fans watching -- for the first time -- the quick, hard-hitting and highly skilled movements of sled-hockey players.

"The looks on the people's faces are always the same," Page said. "You see a look of amazement about the talent, the speed and the physical nature of the game."

Page saw "the look" dozens of times over the weekend, as the USA and Canadian national teams battled it out during a successful three-game exhibition series in the Northtown Center in Amherst.

Crowds of roughly 700 to 900 people watched each game, which did little to dampen the fierce rivalry between the two teams, considered the top two in the world.

It was only an exhibition series, but when the Stars and Stripes face off against the Maple Leaf, especially on three straight nights, there's no love lost between the two squads.

Neither team is going to back down or intimidate its opponents, as the players battle for every loose puck, down to the final buzzer.

The U.S. won the first game Thursday night, a dramatic 3-2 shootout victory, before Canada came back Friday to win the second game 3-1. The U.S. lost again on Saturday by a score of 5-1.

Every sled-hockey player has a story, whether he goes into the locker room on prosthetic limbs, on his original two feet or using crutches or a wheelchair. But listen to their stories, and you quickly learn that their own physical challenges seem secondary to their drive and competitiveness as elite athletes.

Still, these players walk a fine line between competing fiercely and serving as mutual first-generation ambassadors for the rapid rise of their game.

"I think these athletes, whether they're from Canada, the U.S., Japan or Norway, they understand they're ambassadors, not only for themselves, but for all sled-hockey players, from the elite level to the recreational level," Page said.

On the ice, the three-game exhibition series also had an interesting local subplot. Western New York's three national-team players -- Brad Emmerson of Amherst, Alexi Salamone of Grand Island and Adam Page of Lancaster, Norm's son -- played together on a dynamic forward line for Team USA.

Wouldn't that be something to see an all-Western New York line playing for the world championship or Olympic gold?

email: gwarner@buffnews.com