Second chances don’t come around very often in life, and Team Canada wasn’t going to waste this one.
Faced with an opportunity on Saturday to erase the bad memories of a loss to Norway in the 2010 bronze medal game in Vancouver, the Canadian sledge hockey team took full advantage, defeating Norway 3-0 to take the bronze medal at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi.
After a heartbreaking 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Americans in the semifinal match on Thursday, the Canadian squad, which came into the Paralympics with a “gold or bust” mentality, was in danger of another fourth-place result letdown going into the third-place contest.
The script was far different this time around, however, as the Canadians brought the intensity and tenacity that was missing in Vancouver, taking the game to their Norwegian rivals from the opening faceoff and never letting up.
A scoreless first period saw Canada fail to capitalize on some prime scoring opportunities, including a shot by defenceman Adam Dixon that rang off the post and a chance in close by Tyler McGregor that was gloved by Norwegian goalie Kristain Buen. But forward Brad Bowden skated into the slot from the right side 30 seconds into the second period and backhanded a high shot that Buen could only get a piece of, giving Canada a 1-0 lead at Shayba Arena.
The young Canadian side went ahead 2-0 two minutes later after some heavy forechecking in the Norwegian zone paid off. During a goalmouth scramble, the puck came free to Canadian forward Billy Bridges, and he wasted no time sliding it under the sprawling goalie. The play was reviewed, as it appeared that Bridges may have swept the puck in with his hand, but it was ruled a good goal, putting Canada in the driver’s seat.
Canada blew the game open on a power play midway through the second period. Bridges, the all-time leading point-getter in Canadian sledge hockey, finished off a nice passing sequence by rifling a shot upstairs for his second goal of the game and a commanding 3-0 lead.
At the other end of the ice, Canadian netminder Corbin Watson didn’t see much action, as his teammates forced Norway to play on the perimeter for much of the game, but he was tested a few times, and came up big when it counted.
Watson made a nice glove save on forward Audun Bakke with less than two minutes left in the opening period to keep the game 0-0, and then stopped forward Loyd-Remi Pallander Solberg’s breakaway attempt late in the second period to preserve a 2-0 lead. The Canadian keeper finished with 10 saves to post the shutout, his third of the Games.
The contest was the second meeting between the two teams in Sochi, as Canada posted a 4-0 win against Norway during the preliminary round. The two countries have gone head to head in several other crucial matches in the Paralympic arena over the years. In 1998 in Nagano, Norway beat Canada 2-0 for gold, before Canada answered back in Turin in 2006 with a 3-0 victory to go home with the gold medal.
Canada entered the semifinals this year with a perfect 3-0 record before its 3-0 loss to the U.S., while Norway finished the preliminary round with one regulation win, one overtime win, and a regulation loss. Norway fell to Russia 4-0 in its semifinal match.
The loss to Canada ends Norway’s streak of medalling in every Paralympic Games since 1994 in Lillehammer, when sledge hockey was first introduced.
With the bronze medal awarded, the focus now turns to the gold medal showdown between Russia and the U.S. The U.S. team had a little added motivation on their side in the semifinal game against Canada, knowing that Russia awaited the winner in the final.
When the two teams met in the preliminary round, Russia managed to squeak out a 2-1 win, and the Americans were determined to get past Canada to earn another shot at the host nation.
The U.S. is going for its second straight Paralympic gold, after beating Japan 2-0 in 2010.
The gold medal match begins at 2 p.m. ET (live stream on cbc.ca/paralympics).