The USA may have blown it in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Ice Hockey Tournaments by settling for silver, but in the Paralympics, it was a whole different story. This will go down as an up year for USA Ice Sledge Hockey.
Now for those of you who haven't followed this sport, or for those of you who could care less about it, ice sledge hockey is essentially ice hockey for paraplegics who play on modified sleds.
But going back to the gold medal game (and this time, there is no women's tournament; there is just one), the USA made no mistake in securing this one. Alas, it was not the Canadians that Ray Maluta's men had to deal with. Instead it was Japan, who stunned the then-defending gold medalists in the semis.
Alexi Salamone and Taylor Lipsett ensured that the USA's overall ice hockey campaign would not end in three straight silvers, shutting out Japan 2-0.
Here's something you have to know about Salamone, who is a Ukrainian-American that survived the Chernobyl power plant disaster in 1986. He had deformed legs and became a double amputee while being adopted by a family here in the States.
This tragedy never stopped Salamone from pursuing the sport he loves: hockey. And everything went full circle by scoring the first goal of this gold medal game at 4:10 of the first period.
"I didn't even think about the whistle. I was watching the play, staying patient and waiting for the puck to squeak out (from the scrum). I wanted to take my time and get the shot. That's what I did," said Salamone on the goal. "To win this gold medal in the Paralympics, the highest stage of competition, I'm so grateful to everyone for what they have done for me all the way."
Salamone would finish as the tournament's leading scorer with four goals and four assists.
Defensively, the USA's Steve Cash was all money, stopping shot after shot after shot. Not even Japanese team captain Takayuki Endo could get one past Cash, who kept the bank account of the Rising Sun closed for the Paralympiad.
Andrew Yohe of Team USA had rave reviews for Cash, who earned his fifth shutout to wrap up the tournament. "He’s an unbelievable goaltender," he said. "We knew he would keep us in every game and we just had to get out there and get the pucks into the net."
"I'm half happy and half sad," said Japan forward Uehara Daisuke. "I did not think it was a bad game. I think we missed one goal. It's always important that you feel you can win the game because if you do not feel that you will win the game, then you will lose it. I went into the game thinking that I will win it."
Well, if you get outshot 16 to 5, as Japan was here against the USA, it's probably wishful thinking at the most. Just to add salt to the wounds of Canadian hockey pride, Norway kept Canada away from the podium with a 2-1 victory. Can't win 'em all, Canada; two out of three shouldn't be bad for you.
But the story here is this: while it may be a down year for the able-bodied members, it's an up year for the sledgemasters of USA Ice Hockey. Stay tuned in four years' time for what will happen next...in Sochi.