Canada versus the United States. Ice. Pucks. Sticks. Enough said.
Enough to get the blood circulating for any North American hockey fan or player.
And this week’s World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Charlottetown ain’t no different for Canada’s Tyler McGregor and America’s Declan Farmer.
Two of the top sledgers in the world on the top two sledge teams in the world face off in Wednesday’s final preliminary game. Start time is 7 p.m. at MacLauchlan Arena.
It’s the first meeting since Canada beat the United States in the world para hockey championship earlier this year in South Korea and McGregor is fired up.
“They’re who we play most often. They’re been in every gold medal game that I’ve been associated with, won every major competition. The rivalry gets better and better,” said McGregor, whose five points has him tied with teammate Brad Bowden for fifth in tournament scoring. “It’s exciting to get back to where we were. I’m looking forward to (Wednesday).”
Canada had been a sledge powerhouse for many years, winning five of the first seven WSHC golds and Paralympic gold in 2006.
But the United States caught up in recent seasons, taking gold in the last two Paralympics and winning three straight WSHC titles (the last two beating Canada in the final).
It’s made for rugged, intense games when the teams meet and Farmer, who finished last year’s WSHC as the top scorer with 17 points, expects nothing out of the ordinary on Wednesday.
“The U.S. and Canada kind of goes across all fields of hockey. Men’s, women’s, all levels, (including) sledge. We’re hockey players, too. It’s two close teams, skilled and talented,” said Farmer, the tourney’s top scorer (nine points). “Last year (at the worlds) they got the better of us. It will be a close one, should be fun.”
America and Canada lead the event at 2-0 after wins over Italy and Korea. The United States hasn’t allowed a goal while scoring 18 goals. Canada downed Italy 8-0 and Korea 9-3.
The winner goes to 3-0 and faces the loser of Wednesday’s Italy-Korea matchup in Thursday’s semifinals, while the loser goes to 2-1 and gets Wednesday’s early game winner in the semis.
Canada wants that 3-0 mark, said McGregor, and home ice advantage and last change and knows what it must do to get it.
“They’re a team that has a lot of speed, and skilled as well, so our forecheck is critical. We can’t get caught off the rush. Physicality gets them off their game,” said McGregor, adding Canada’s girded for a tough outing. “Absolutely. That what we’ve trained for. We’re physically and mentally ready.”
Farmer’s seen enough of Canada over the last few years to see how the team has changed, but he and his squad are set for the challenges.
“They’ve been pretty physical through most of my career, but they’ve brought in more skilled players and some younger guys and have become a really good puck possession team,” he said. “We’ve got to possess the puck and neutralize their puck possession … and that will put us in a position for success.”
Thursday’s semifinals go at noon and 7 p.m. Canada plays in the late semi.
Top five scorers at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge after two games.
G A Pts PIM
Declan Farmer (US) 4 5 9 0
Greg Westlake (Can) 3 4 7 4
Jack Wallace (US) 4 3 7 2
Brad Bowden (Can) 5 0 5 0
Tyler McGregor (Can) 2 3 5 0