Ask Josh Sweeney what makes Steve Cash such an incredible goaltender and he tells you point blank, with a laugh, that he has no idea.
Well, that’s not entirely true. He has some idea.
“He’s so fast and positionally he knows where to be,” Sweeney said. “And I think he trusts us just as much as we trust him and I that bond really helps win big like this.”
The big win was a 6-1 decision over Russia for the United States in its opening game of the 2015 IPC Sledge Hockey World Championships at HarborCenter Sunday night.
That fast, positional play by Cash was evident several times throughout the game.
Take one save in the second period. The Americans had a 3-1 lead and Russia had turned aggressive and quick with the puck in the offensive zone. Cash watched the play developing on his left but quickly glanced to see a Russian forward hanging out all alone to his right. As the perfect pass slid across the slot, Cash deftly moved ahead of the puck, denying the opportunity in dramatic fashion.
Cash isn’t much for talking about the dramatics, but he will talk all night long about how well his teammates played.
“I was really seeing the puck well,” Cash said. “It’s just one of those days but at the same time my guys really did a good job of keeping shots to the outside. Obviously that’s what I like and they kept the pucks from funneling to the middle. That’s really all I can ask for. On my end, I just try to make the saves necessary to keep us in the game.”
Russia has “a good team so you never really know what they’re going to do but at the same time when my guys force them to make a certain play, it makes my job a lot easier,” Cash said. “There were a couple times they had good opportunities but with the goals we had, my guys were able to bail me out.”
The U.S. had built a 3-0 lead before Cash let in his only goal of the night – a blast from Ilia Volkov with 2:06 left in the second. He finished with 12 saves while his teammates netted six goals on 13 shots.
While the goals gave Cash a cushion, he was calm and confident in net. A veteran of the U.S. national sled hockey team since the 2005-06 season, he has a perspective that helped the Americans kick it down a notch when the emotions of playing at home in front of 1,411 USA fans were a bit too amped up at the start.
“When you have the first game you’re always a little nervous,” Cash said. “You kinda have to settle in and you could tell in warmups we were kinda messing up a few plays. In the locker room everyone told each other just settle down and play your game and guys were able to settle down.”
“He’s been around the longest,” said Sweeney, who scored two goals. “He definitely does keep us all calm and confident that we can make the offensive plays we want to make and know if we screw it up, he’s back there for us.”
He gives them confidence and bails them out, but in return he gets a little bit of chirping. See the goalie mask he wore in the Sochi Paralympics was cracked a month. Without time to get a new mask painted for this tournament, he’s going with the all-white look.
“I was forced to play with a new mask and go with eggshell white, basically. That’s what I call it. Eggshell on my head,” Cash said. “I plan on getting it painted for next season. I just wasn’t able to get it done in time. All the guys are hounding me to get it done. They were disappointed to see me show up with an eggshell. I’ll definitely get it painted down the road. It’s pretty glaring when I’m out there so I’d like to become part of the group and put a portrait on my helmet.”