There won’t be a hockey sweep in Sochi.
Declan Farmer had two goals and an assist Thursday as the United States defeated Canada 3-0 in the sledge hockey semi-finals at the Paralympic Winter Games.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for the Canadians, who were trying to become the first country to win the men’s, women’s and sledge hockey tournaments at an Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“We were tight. There’s no secret that we weren’t making crisp, on-the-tape passes, and that hurt us. At the same time, we had our chances,” said Canadian captain Greg Westlake. “It seemed like we’d have this 10-bell chance at their end and then they’d come back and the puck would end up in our net.
“Whenever you go from that emotional high of having a glorious scoring chance and then they come back the other way and put one in your net, it’s kind of a devastating feeling.”
Joshua Pauls added a goal and an assist for the U.S., while Steve Cash made 11 saves to get the shutout.
The Americans will face Russia in Saturday’s gold-medal game at Shayba Arena after the hosts defeated Norway 4-0 in Thursday’s other semi-final.
Corbin Watson stopped seven shots for Canada, which will play Norway for bronze on Saturday.
“It’s pretty tough. Some of the bounces didn’t go our way. Can’t really say too much about it. It’s a real heartbreaking loss,” said an emotional Watson. “I know I take a lot on my shoulders, I wish I could be better for it. I wish I could have some of those bounces back but that’s how it goes.”
Gold medallists in 2006, Canada was also looking to avenge a disappointing fourth-place finish on home soil in Vancouver in 2010 and was perfect through three round-robin games, outscoring the opposition 15-1.
But on a night where nothing seemed to go their way, the Canadians failed to convert numerous chances in front of Cash, a trend that started in their 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Tuesday.
“We seemed to make the game really hard for ourselves,” said Canadian assistant captain Brad Bowden. “On top of some of the bad bounces ... it’s tough when it feels like everything is against you and you have to work twice as hard to do something that is usually really easy. It seemed like we had to skate 100 miles to get a pass.”
The Americans will play for gold for a second straight Paralympics after winning the tournament four years ago. The U.S. was upset by Russia 2-1 in their final group game here to set up the semifinal against their bitter rivals.
“Our bracket was tougher. The games we had to play were tougher games than what Canada played,” said U.S. head coach Jeff Sauer. “Our goal was to come here and play for a gold medal. We knew we had to go through Canada somewhere along the line. I think Canada knew that as well and we were prepared for today.”
Westlake said his worst fears were realized after Canada cruised through group play, including a 10-1 victory over Sweden in the opener.
“They got to play a lot of tough, high-intensity games and we didn’t get those same high-intensity games, no disrespect to our opponents,” he said. “Even if they were skating at a seven tonight, it felt like a 10 because we just hadn’t played anyone with that speed yet this week.
“It’s like a pitcher’s changeup. We were facing changeup, changeup, changeup and then they threw a fastball. They’re quick, but when our hands are moving we’re fast, too.”
Canada came in having won the 2013 world championship and world sledge hockey challenge — with both victories coming over the U.S. — but lost two of three exhibition meetings with the Americans in the leadup to the Paralympics.
The 16-year-old Farmer opened the scoring at 9:12 of the first period after he cut into the slot and fired a shot that handcuffed Watson.
Canada’s Billy Bridges had a great chance off a U.S. turnover moments before the goal but fired wide. The Canadians came close again later in the period when Westlake couldn’t find the range from the slot and Kevin Rempel was thwarted by Cash’s diving save.
Farmer then made it 2-0 with 56 seconds left in the period when his quick shot from the left faceoff circle found its way past a surprised Watson.
The Canadians had a power play to start the second period and came close to getting on the board when Adam Dixon hit the post behind Cash.
Rico Roman then missed on a U.S. breakaway, but Farmer fed Pauls moments later in front to make it 3-0 at 4:55 of the second for an American team that scored on three of its first four shots.
“It’s tough to have to keep pushing momentum back on them,” said Westlake. “If we pop one of those goals early I think it’s an entirely different game. I think it loosens us up. With 15-minute periods, once you get behind by one, and two especially, you’re chasing. It’s a sprint now. You can’t afford to be calm.”
Watson kept Canada in it with a big save on Pauls on an U.S. power play with two minutes to go in the period, but the damage was already done.
“The guys were ready to play. We had a real good day of preparation,” said Canadian head coach Mike Mondin. “It was just one of those games where I think maybe we were trying a bit too hard.”
Needing a third period reminiscent of the women’s memorable comeback victory over the U.S. in the Olympic gold-medal game, Canada came out with renewed vigour in the third. But the quicker Americans were able withstand the push to secure their spot in the final.
“I love the game of sledge hockey and I’ll give credit where credit is due,” said Bowden. “They played well, they skated hard, they came prepared and we didn’t match them.”
Notes: Attendance at Shayba Arena was 5,150. ... Canada defeated Norway 4-0 in round-robin play. The Norwegians beat Canada in the bronze-medal game back in 2010.