The U.S. sled hockey team and its two Buffalo-area stars showed the world Saturday that neither disability nor the vaunted Russian team could stand in its way.
Josh Sweeney, who lost both legs in Afghanistan in 2009 from a roadside bomb explosion, scored the only goal of a hard-fought game on Russian home ice in Sochi Saturday to capture the gold medal at the Paralympic Games.
The victory ranks as especially sweet for two local players on the team – Adam Page of Lancaster and Paul Schaus of North Tonawanda. Page, 22, played on the last U.S. team to win the gold in Vancouver in 2010. Schaus, 26, lost both legs in Afghanistan in 2009 – also to a roadside bomb.
The victory is also sure to raise the spirits of local fans like Norm Page, Adam’s father and the national sled hockey representative for USA Hockey – who seemed to sum up the spirit of the sport in a Saturday story in The Buffalo News.
“There’s so much pride with these young men to put their jersey on and try to win a gold medal,” Page said of the team, which is made up of many military veterans. “They’re representing their country in a different way.”
CBS Sports reported Saturday that Sweeney scored the game’s winning – and only – goal in the second period by stealing the puck from a Russian defenseman, moving in on the net, and lifting a shot up and over the goalie.
And that was all it took.
The U.S. had actually lost to Russia in the games’ preliminary round, but bounced back to win the tournament in an effort that also featured a 3-0 shutout of Canada. The U.S. wins the first-ever back-to-back championships in sled hockey, which has been a part of international competition since 1994.
Jeff Sauer of the University of Wisconsin is the team’s coach.
Norm Page told The News that the U.S. fans – numbering about 100 – would probably be drowned out by the overwhelming Russian crowd in the 7,000-seat arena.
But the athlete’s father – who was spotted on television with tears in his eyes among the jubilant American fans – noted a gold medal would ramp up interest in the sport and expose more hockey enthusiasts around the globe to the skills of people with disabilities.