I received my volunteer work schedule in advance and knew what days I would have off. The Sledge Hockey Gold Medal Game fell on one of my free days, so I excitedly bought a ticket. At the time, I didn’t know which countries would be competing in that game. I was hoping it would be Canada vs. the U.S. I was SUPER shocked when it turned out to be Japan vs. the U.S. When you think about countries with a rich hockey history, Japan doesn’t come to mind. Early on in the Paralympics this was the hottest ticket, then when Canada was knocked out of medals contention things changed. Many Canadians tried to sell their ticket(s) and some just didn’t show up for the game. The Canadians who did attend the gold medal game all cheered on Japan. I was disappointed because as our neighbors, I felt if Canada was playing instead of the U.S. I would have rooted for them.
The game started at noon. I arrived at UBC Thunderbird Arena, a 6,800-seat rink, around 11:45 a.m. All the vehicles were only allowed within a certain distance of the arena. Along my walk I bought a U.S. flag from a street vendor so I could show support for my country! When I got to my seat I was happy to discover that I was sitting next to a nice older couple from Chicago. I have been to more than two hundred hockey games in my life, but this one was very special because it was my first sledge hockey game and my first medals game. The players were all incredible to watch. They used two mini sticks like boat oars to propel their sleds across the ice. They used the top of the sticks to push themselves and then they’d flip their sticks around super fast to the curved end when they were in contact with the puck. They hustled across the ice with great speed and determination. They played equally as aggressive as NHL players, but with even more passion. Besides the different equipment than the NHL, the sledge hockey penalty box and players box had doors that were flush to the ice and had lower clear walls.
Steve Cash, one of our goalies, worked very hard guarding the net. Alexi Salamone #21 of Grand Island, NY, scored the first goal on the power play in the first period. Taylor Lipsett #7 from Mesquite, Texas, scored goal number two in the third period. The U.S. beat Japan 2 to 0. Immediately after the game they rolled out the carpets for the medals ceremony. It all happened very fast. Players from the Norway team came out in a single file line on the carpet and were presented with their bronze medals, then their flower bouquets. Next, the Japanese players were each given their silver medals and then their flowers. Saving the best for last … the U.S. players were each awarded their gold medals and flowers. The three flags were raised and the U.S. anthem played. I hung out in the stands taking it all in until every player had left the ice.
All the sledge hockey players demonstrated determination, perseverance and courage. It was great fun to watch them play.