Maybe it was just meant to be.
While the United States and Russia face off in an international war of words over the Ukraine and Crimea, the Paralympic gold medal will be contested today by sled hockey athletes from the two countries – including military veterans from both teams who have lost legs in combat.
The game will be played at 8 p.m. (Sochi time) and broadcast live at noon (Buffalo time) on WGRZ-TV Channel 2.
U.S. vs. Russia. We’ve seen it in hockey rinks before, in Lake Placid in 1980 and even in the Sochi Olympics last month.
But this time it’s for gold, and the U.S. team includes two Western New Yorkers – Adam Page of Lancaster and Paul Schaus of North Tonawanda.
On Tuesday in the preliminary round, Russia upset the Americans, 2-1, forcing the U.S. into a semifinal match with its sled hockey archrival, Canada. The U.S. beat Canada, 3-0.
Next up: the Russians, with the home crowd on their side.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what the crowd is going to be like,” said Norm Page, Adam’s father and the national sled hockey representative for USA Hockey. “It was rocking the other night, but now it’s going to be for the gold.”
Page figures about 100 people will be rooting for the U.S., drowned out in a crowd of about 7,000.
But this isn’t just about politics, even if Russian President Vladimir Putin does show up. And it’s about more than sled hockey supremacy.
All those angles just ramp up the interest in the sport, while also teaching more people across the globe about the skills of people with disabilities.
“It does so much to raise the awareness of the sport in the U.S. and across the world,” Page said.
The U.S. team still is smarting from its upset loss to the Russians on Tuesday. They took out their hurt feelings by dismantling the Canadians in the semifinals.
“We’ve never beaten Canada like that,” Page said. “I’ve never seen us dominate a game against Canada like that.”
The Americans will try to bring that same focus and energy to their game against the upstart Russians.
“Our team is really looking forward to the opportunity to go back into that building and take it to the Russians,” Page said. “They’re focused.”
Page was asked how the two local players, his son and Schaus, have handled the whole Paralympic experience.
Adam Page, who just turned 22, played on the U.S. gold-medal-winning team in Vancouver in 2010.
“Very few people have the opportunity to go for one gold medal,” his father said. “Adam’s going for his second. I think he realizes how special this is. He’s going to enjoy the moment.”
Schaus, 25, lost both legs after being injured by an Improvised Explosive Device while serving with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in 2009.
He no longer can don a military uniform to fight for his country. But he’ll proudly be wearing the U.S. colors today.
“There’s so much pride with these young men to put their jersey on and try to win a gold medal,” Norm Page said. “They’re representing their country in a different way.”