Dynamic duo leads Canada to sledge hockey tournament title
SCOTT MITCHELL, QMI Agency
|Billy Bridges from Team Canada (L) tangles with Greg Shaw from Team USA in the final game of the World Sledge Hockey Challenge 2011 at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Alberta on December 3, 2011. (STUART DRYDEN/QMI AGENCY)
CALGARY - Finding each other on the ice is nothing new for Greg Westlake and Brad Bowden.
Doing it inside the new Hockey Canada arena at Canada Olympic Park is, however.
Buoyed by Westlake’s hat-trick and Bowden’s goal and three assists, Canada beat up the 2010 Paralympic champion U.S. squad 4-1 Saturday night at WinSport Ice Complex to claim the 2011 World Sledge Hockey Challenge.
“What a great way to open the building,” Canadian head coach Mike Mondin said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of championships in here by Hockey Canada.”
After emerging from a jubilant Team Canada dressing room, the captain Westlake agreed.
“We definitely kind of wanted to christen it with a win,” Westlake said.
“Maybe we’ll christen it with a Molson now.”
Canada finished off a perfect 5-0 tournament that started last Sunday with an 8-0 thrashing of Japan.
Westlake, of Oakville, Ont., and Bowden, of Orton, Ont., were dominant all week long.
Bowden led the tournament in scoring with six goals and nine assists, while Westlake finished with eight goals and six assists.
“We work hard for each other and sometimes it’s him, sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s (winger) Anthony (Gale),” Bowden said. “It’s just one of those games where you have a connection with your linemate and you just know where they are.”
The U.S. opened the scored 53 seconds into the game, banging home a loose puck past Canadian goaltender Benoit St-Amand.
Canada took two penalties in the first five minutes of the game, but were able to escape unscathed.
From there, the home side took over.
Westlake was finally able to get Canada on the board at 14:44 of the first period, finishing off a Bowden feed to knot the game at 1-1.
Canada took the lead at 8:18 of the second frame when Westlake, and Bowden connected again from in close, as Westlake buried his second of the game for a 2-1 lead.
“He’s magic, there’s no question,” Mondin said of his captain. “He gets bigger as the games get bigger.”
Westlake finished off the hat-trick at the 4:25 mark of the third period, roofing a hard wrister from the slot, and 55 seconds later, Bowden slipped past the U.S. defence and outwaited American goalie Steve Cash to slide home his first of the game and sixth of the tournament for a 4-1 Canada lead. By the end of the night, the opening goal by the U.S. was long forgotten.
“I think we just went into a bit of survival mode,” Westlake said. “We gave up that first goal, we killed two penalties, and then we got two or three shifts five-on-five and we realized, ‘Hey, we can outplay these guys.’ ”
St-Amand, who turned away 18 American shots on the night, knew the offence would find the mark, despite Cash playing spectacular at times and finishing with 10 saves.
“I wasn’t worried,” St-Amand said. “I knew these guys were going to score two or three right off the bat and that’s what they did.”
U.S. head coach Jeff Sauer wasn’t impressed with the way his team failed to capitalize in the first period after the opening goal and then watched as Canada dominated the final two frames.
“Give all the credit to Canada, they took advantage of our mistakes,” Sauer said. “They’re a good team and the pressure was on them.
“And they rose to the challenge.”