Norway beats Canada for sledge hockey bronze
Just when the Canadian sledge hockey team thought it couldn't suffer a more heartbreaking loss after being stunned by Japan in the Paralympic semifinals, the host country was pushed off the Games podium on the most unlikely of goals.
Norway's Eskil Hagen scored with 3.6 seconds left in the third period Friday to beat Canada 2-1 in the Paralympic bronze-medal game.
With the clock winding down and overtime looming, Hagen fired a shot from the point that hit Canadian forward Billy Bridges, fluttered up into the air and dropped in behind goaltender Paul Rosen.
Hagen conceded after the game that wasn't exactly how he drew up the game-winning goal.
"The puck was on edge, rolling, and I just wanted to get it to the net and it hit something on the way and went in a nice arch above the goalie," he said with a laugh.
"I thought, 'Oh crap, I'm going to be hit by my teammates."'
When Canada and Norway met in the round-robin portion of the tournament the host country dominated from the onset, greatly outhitting and outchancing the opposing squad on its way to a 5-0 win.
But the Canadians didn't appear to have that same level of intensity one day after being relegated to the bronze medal game when Japan scored with 73 seconds remaining in the third period of the semifinal.
Against Norway, Canada didn't score until 2:45 into the third period when 20-year-old defenceman Adam Dixon fired a shot from the left circle into the top corner of the net.
But the hosts followed that up by taking three straight penalties and while short-handed Dixon covered the puck in the crease with his glove. Norway was given a penalty shot, much to the dismay of Rosen who fired his helmet down onto the ice and had to be restrained by teammate Ray Grassi.
Rolf Einar Pedersen, Norway's star forward and assistant captain, took the penalty shot and didn't miss, outwaiting Rosen on a forehand deke to even the game at 1-1 with 8:52 to play.
Norway carried the flow for the rest of the period, shooting Canada 8-1 in the frame, before Hagen's goal.
It's not the first time Hagen has dashed Canada's hopes at the Paralympics. He scored both goals in Nagano in 1998 when Norway beat Canada 2-0 in the gold medal game.
He denied that he's a Canuck-killer, pointing to the fact that his girlfriend is Canadian cross-country skier and Paralympian Shauna Whyte, but admitted he'll remember the bronze medal win.
"Playing today and beating Canada on their home ice, it's special," he said.
Canada outshot Norway 17-4 through the first two periods but the game remained scoreless and the host country didn't play with the same physical edge it showed at other points of the tournament.
And much as they did against Japan, the Canadian players failed to hit the net on a number of glorious chances that could have put the game away early.
Bridges had a partial breakaway in the first period but his attempt to the blocker side of Norwegian goaltender Roger Johansen sailed wide. Leading scorer Greg Westlake also missed the net on a chance from deep in the slot a few minutes later.
With Norway down a man late in the period, Westlake set up teammate Brad Bowden for perhaps Canada's best chance of the opening 15 minutes. Bowden took a pass at the side of the net and snapped one toward the far post, but Johansen knocked the puck away with his glove.
Westlake, who was blanked for the first time in the tournament against Japan, was snake-bitten again against Norway. He got in all alone on Johansen in the second but couldn't get the puck off the ice and the Norwegian netminder made the save.
Westlake disputed any assertion that his team didn't bring its best game against Norway after the deflating loss to Japan.
"We were really ready," he said. "We have no lack of motivation. We have teammates we wanted to play for, we have staff. I said all along that I wanted to turn in a gold medal performance in the bronze medal game."
Captain Jean Labonte, who said he might retire from the national sledge team, echoed those sentiments.
"The vibe in the dressing room before the game was just phenomenal, we had a lot of fun," he said.
Labonte, who turns 41 on Saturday, left the door open for his return, saying the Vancouver tournament was not the way he wanted to wrap up his career.
"Especially with that last play … this is certainly not how I wanted to leave this game," he said.
Dixon called Friday's loss crushing.
"There's a couple of guys, this is their last game played," he said. "Coming into today after yesterday, we wanted to at least walk out with our pride and walk out with a souvenir to go home with."
Rosen, who did not speak with reporters after the loss, had earlier said the Vancouver Paralympics would be his last appearance with the national team.
Rosen and Labonte are two of four players on the team over the age of 40. Herve Lord is 52 and Todd Nicholson is 41. Shawn Matheson will celebrate his 38th birthday in May.
The Canadian team was visited by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Rick Hansen after the loss and Westlake said that lifted the spirits of the squad.
"The prime minister just said he was proud of us, told us that we'd come back stronger," he said.
"I probably would have been crying and sobbing if not for those guys coming in."
Games organizers said 5,462 tickets were sold for the game at the University of British Columbia, though there were some empty seats throughout the building.
The Canadian fans who turned out were loud and boisterous, however, waving flags and chanting "Go Canada Go." A couple of dozen fans dressed in Norwegian attire also turned out and cheered wildly when their team claimed bronze.