Canadian sledge hockey team pounds Sweden
Scoring was the last thing on Greg Westlake's mind as the Canadian sledge hockey player dumped the puck into the opposing zone, his team down two skaters after back-to-back penalties.
But the way the Vancouver Paralympics have been going for the Oakville, Ont., native even that 3-on-5 dump-in couldn't help but find its way into the back of the net.
Westlake scored three goals and added two assists as Canada pounded Sweden 10-1 on Sunday. With the dominating performance, Westlake leads all tournament scorers with five goals and seven points.
"I want to win gold and that's why I'm here. I'm going to bear down and do everything in my power to win a gold medal," Westlake said after the game.
Westlake gave Canada a 2-1 first-period lead when he finished off a pretty three-way passing play with Todd Nicholson and Billy Bridges.
He scored his second goal two minutes into the second period when he took a cross-seam feed from Adam Dixon and one-timed the puck past Swedish goaltender Ulf Nilsson.
Westlake completed his hat trick while on the penalty kill eight minutes later.
He was carrying the puck in the neutral zone when a Swedish defender blocked his path and forced Westlake to chip it in.
The puck was going wide of the Swedish net but Nilsson lunged toward it anyway, the black disc careening off his glove, changing direction and going into the cage, much to the surprise of Westlake and the 5,504 people in attendance.
"I just want to enjoy the experience," Westlake said. "I'm having a blast. I think you play your best hockey when you're having fun."
Jeff Snyder, the Canadian team's head coach, called Westlake the best player on the ice after the Canucks knocked off Italy 4-0 in their first Paralympic game on Saturday.
The coach was just as glowing with his praise one day later.
"I thought he was really good at taking the man, being physical, but really getting himself open in shooting areas," Snyder said.
"I sometimes say he's like [former National Hockey League player] Brett Hull in that he finds that open space on the ice. We're giving him the puck and he's burying them right now."
With the win over Sweden, Canada improved to 2-0 at the Vancouver Paralympics. Next up for the Canadian side will be Norway, whom they beat in the gold medal game in Turin in 2006.
Westlake was a member of that team as a 19-year-old and also has a gold medal from the 2008 sledge hockey world championship.
Big goals are nothing new for the Canadian forward. He scored in the gold medal game at the 2006 Paralympics and had the game-winner with just eight seconds to go in the world championship final.
Westlake first picked up sledge hockey in 2001 and debuted with Team Canada in 2003.
He had both his legs amputated when he was 18 months old but always showed a passion for the game, wearing artificial legs when he was a kid so he could line up against his brothers.
His favourite hockey player is Calgary Flames superstar Jarome Iginla and Westlake says that's one of the reasons why he wears No. 12 on the ice.
"I've always respected the fact that Iginla can play a mean game, he can fight, he can do all of those things but then off the ice he's just a super nice guy," he said.
"That's kind of the niche I want to carve out for myself. I'm not a bad guy out on the ice. I'll have a beer with any of the guys we play against."
One day after the Canadian team received a pre-game good luck phone call from hockey legend Steve Yzerman, it was another legend, Mark Messier, who offered some words of wisdom before the tilt with Sweden.
Marc Dorion also registered a hat trick for Canada against Sweden and has four goals in the tournament, one behind Westlake.
Adam Dixon and Brad Bowden had two goals each, and Billy Bridges picked up four assists.
Goaltender Benoit St-Amand didn't register a save in the Canadian net for the first two periods of the game. St-Amand gave up a goal on the only first-period shot that came his way and didn't have to stop a puck in the second.
He ended up making two saves.