When Team Canada coach Russ Herrington said in advance of the gold medal final that it would take an almost perfect game to defeat the United States at the World Para Hockey Championship, he wasn’t kidding.
And the United States showed exactly what he meant on Sunday night.
The U.S. scored a pair of goals in each period, including two shorthanded, as they went on to a 6-1 victory to claim gold in front of nearly 3,000 fans at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.
It was as complete a performance in-game and throughout the week as the United States could have hoped for, and it all led to their fifth straight world and Paralympic championship dating back to 2018.
“We’ve just been working our way up all week, it started at base camp and now we’ve got to the top of the mountain and it feels great,” said U.S. forward David Eustace. “Hopefully it’ll never end, we just have to keep working and keep grinding all the time and hopefully we’ll keep on winning.”
The U.S. got things going only 2:48 into the game when Josh Misiewicz scored the game’s opening goal, and tournament MVP Declan Farmer made it 2-0 with a shorthanded goal with 44 seconds to play in the period.
Eustace then made it 3-0 1:23 into the second, followed by a second U.S. shorthanded goal from Jack Wallace with 4:33 to play in the frame to give the U.S. a 4-0 lead heading into the third.
“We just had to keep the intensity up, keep grinding on them and make them make mistakes. It worked well,” Eustace said of their strategy and how they built their lead.
Canada captain Tyler McGregor nearly brought the roof off the building when he went in on a partial breakaway and beat U.S. goaltender Jenn Lee with Canada’s lone goal 4:22 into the third, but Farmer and Kevin McKee scored in the latter half of the period to wrap things up.
U.S. head coach David Hoff pointed to the performance of his top four players as a key to their success, as Farmer, Wallace, Brody Roybal and captain Josh Pauls were outstanding from start to finish.
The foursome saved some of their best work for their penalty kill, with their shorthanded markers changing the state of the game both times they were scored.
“Any time we have an important kill, you’re going to see Farmer, Roybal, Wallace and Pauls on the ice, and every one of them is a threat to do something individually,” Hoff said. “That’s one thing we told the guys, just be patient and the chances will come. They definitely got some chances, and then we had David Eustace and Travis Dodson playing so well, too. When you have a so-called third line playing that well, it makes it so hard for teams to do very much against you.”
Needless to say, it was a disappointing result for Team Canada, as they continue to battle to find a way to deal with the depth and skill the U.S. brings every time they face one another.
“They are an excellent team, and as of right now they’re the best team in the world and that’s not a slight on our team,” McGregor said. “We showed up to this tournament with eight players in their first world championship, and it’s heartbreaking, but every single person in that room showed their ability to compete and what they could do. The result is just what it is, but I’m proud of how we played the whole week.”
Herrington had hoped to see his crew find a way to deal with the United States top four, but that was always going to be a nigh impossible task.
“To say they’re good is an understatement,” he said. “Declan Farmer is the best player in the world and he showed it again this week, then Josh Pauls and Jack Wallace aren’t far behind him. We’re just at a different stage in our development than they are. They’ve earned their way to the top of the mountain, and we said this week, no one gets drafted to the top of the mountain. Sometimes you have to scratch and claw and get up there, and sometimes you fall back a little bit, it’s a long journey.”
Lee finished with eight saves to earn the win, Dominic Larocque stopped 17 shots for Canada.
Now, the look turns toward the future.
For the U.S., that means a tradition spate of turnover as more players move into the program and bolster their already- impressive core.
“It’s just a really good group of guys,” Hoff said. “It’s tough, because this is the last time those guys will be together because in a few months we’ll be selecting a new team and we’ve never had the whole group of guys two years in a row. It’s very competitive to be on this team right now.”
Canada, meanwhile, will look to continue to build as they aim to eventually take a hard run at the iron colossus astride the world of para hockey.
“We’re trying to be Team Canada, and Team USA is Team USA,” Herrington said. “That’s the biggest final step, we’re not there yet, because we’re a team that competes for gold medals and they’re a team that wins gold medals. They put that on display again tonight, and we’ll just keep working hard to try and get there.”