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Team USA Faces First Hurdle

Last Friday night, USA Basketball put on a scrimmage in Las Vegas. The twenty players on the current Team USA roster were split into two squads, and matched up against each other. It was similar to an all-star game atmosphere. In a game where there as much fun to be had, and basketball to be learned, the only outcome turned to be a negative one. Indiana Pacers star small forward, Paul George, suffered a gruesome leg injury when he landed awkwardly on the base of the basket, after chasing down the opposing James Harden. At first, it did not seem as though he was greatly injured. Replays showed, however, that his leg wrenched just above the ankle, causing a ghastly image and complete fracture. Director of USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo, at the time, had stated, “Everyone saw what we saw, but that’s for the medical team to decide, determine, and then make the announcement about what it is and what’s going to take place.” Ultimately, it has been determined that George will miss the entire 2014-2015 NBA season, causing some distress in the minds of owners, coaches, teammates, and fans alike. Continue reading

Josh Sweeney scores the game winning goal against Russia. (Photo found on cbssports.com)

USA continues dominance in sled hockey

The third time was the charm in Sochi.

For USA, it took that many times to get the gold medal that they sought in Sochi. It didn’t come from the women or the men’s hockey team. But the USA sled hockey team was able to complete a repeat as they defended their gold medal with a textbook 1-0 victory over Russia.

It was an amazing tournament all around. USA played well in their first two games but a loss to Russia in the final game of pool play to Russia left them with a daunting matchup against Canada in the semifinals to a team that had scored 15 goals in the preliminary round to one goal allowed.

It was the youth line of Brody Roybal, Declan Farmer and Josh Pauls that dominated long stretches of the tournament. It would be no different as Farmer scored two goals and tallied an assist in the game to lead USA to a 3-0 victory over Canada. The first goal was a thing of beauty as Farmer went across the slot and waited for the defense to get out of position. At the first sign of an opening, Farmer put a perfectly placed shot directly under the armpit of Corbin Watson to give USA a lead it would never relinquish.

Farmer finished the scoring in that game with a beautiful pass to Pauls who fired a left hand one timer underneath a sliding Watson.

In the gold medal game against Russia, USA put on a defensive clinic. It was that defensive mentality that led to the only goal of the game. Josh Sweeney forced a turnover inside the blue line off a sloppy pass.

Propelling himself ahead of the defense, Sweeney was all alone on a breakaway. He made a nifty stick handling move under his sled bringing the puck from his left stick to his right stick before he rifled a shot underneath the crossbar at 9:28 of the second period. Steve Cash was brilliant again in goal as he recorded his third shutout of the tournament and fourth scoreless game.

The defense did its job as it shut down Russia. Only six shots on goal were registered for Russia as the U.S. controlled a majority of the play and kept the puck away from Russia.

It was a spectacular tournament for USA which became the first country to repeat as sled hockey champions. Going into the future, it appears that there is no stopping USA from being a powerhouse for years to come. The youth line will be here to stay and there are two burgeoning superstars in Roybal and Farmer who are 15 and 16 respectively.

There were games where Roybal and Farmer dominated the competition. The two young superstars are only going to grow and become even more dominant. Roybal had two goals in his first game of the tournament and Farmer scored three goals and had two assists in five games. In addition, Steve Cash is only 24 and has allowed 1 goal in the past two Paralympics.

Only two players on team USA are older than 30. There isn’t much talent that may be replaced going forward. The captain, Andy Yohe, may be interested in retiring but Rico Roman could be back as well. It’s very possible that Sweeney could transition from Alternate Captain to Captain if Yohe decides to retire. Sweeney had two goals in the tournament and formed the Delta Bravo line with Roman and Paul Schaus.

The balance among USA was striking as they simply have more depth than any team in the Paralympics. The youth line will continue to grow as will the Delta Bravo line. Roybal and Farmer are the future and have displayed skills that are the envy of most of the hockey world.

There is no reason not to think with the return of Cash, Sweeney, Farmer and Roybal that Team USA will not be the favorites to three-peat in 2018. The present is bright and the future is brighter for USA.

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The Paralympics are fun

If you thought you wouldn’t be able to chant USA over and over until the World Cup, you were wrong.

You can still chant USA as the Paralympics started. What’s that you say? You didn’t know that the Paralympics were on TV. NBC is broadcasting 52 hours of coverage on NBC and NBC Sports Network which is the most ever for the Paralympics games. Another place to go for watching every event of the Paralympics is http://www.teamusa.org.

This is great as we are finally starting to kick down the barrier that society has between non disabled and disabled athletes. But it’s not enough, there needs to be more media coverage for the Paralympics. A few hours a day on a channel that not everybody is aware of doesn’t do it.

If you don’t think that an athlete with a disability is an athlete, then watch the Paralympics.

It is great theater with the same compelling stories. I was roped in from the first event that I watched which was downhill skiing. There were all types of classifications although it was concerning to see the guides for the visually impaired skiers not inform the skiers to not turn right after finishing because they would run into a padded barrier.

The downhill skiing has been one of my favorite events as you saw different divisions. In all, there were six divisions including different types of amputees in one division. Some of the athletes were on one ski or others had two skis depending on where there amputation was. The strength that is required to ski with only one pole or ski and keep your balance is insane.

Besides that, there has been some exciting cross country skiing and biathlon action so far. One of the things that is hard to realize is how difficult it is to turn in a chair on soft snow while cross country skiing.
Some of the other events on the docket are wheelchair curling, snowboarding and more.

But my absolute favorite has been the sled hockey. It was completely unexpected to see the USA-Italy game which was not on the original schedule. The action was spectacular and team USA has a 15 year old and 16 year old on the team. Brody Roybal led the way for team USA with two goals including a sweet wrist shot top shelf.

The speed is phenomenal and it’s just as physical as an NHL game. Some of the hits in the game were clean and hard. Plenty of skill was on hand as well as there was a beautiful tape to tape pass that Jen Lee had no chance on to end the shutout bid with just over a minute remaining.

You will see plenty of wrist shots and hits to satisfy your appetite watching sled hockey. The upper body strength on all of these athletes is amazing as they propel themselves through the snow and ice.

It has been thrilling to watch the Paralympics so far. The events have been spectacular and will be on NBC Sports Network all week. There is plenty of more drama and amazing stories to unfold. Watch a few minutes and you will be hooked by how fun the Paralympics are.

So turn on your TV, sit down and chant USA as we support our athletes in Russia!

Jaime Benn celebrates his goal over Jonathan Quick. (Photo courtesy of: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1968985-canada-answers-doubters-with-flawless-effort-vs-usa-eyes-olympic-hockey-gold)

Big Brother rules in semifinals

One of the most thrilling events at the Olympics was the Men’s Hockey Tournament. The semifinals brought similar storylines and the same old story for Finland and the United States.

Both matchups had the big brother versus little brother feel to them.

For Finland, they have always had trouble with Sweden on the big stage and the most memorable matchup may have been the 2006 Olympic Final which Sweden defeated Finland 3-2. Now while Finland has had more success consistently in the Olympics, Finland has always had trouble beating Sweden on the biggest of stages.

It was another tough defeat for Finland against Sweden. Olli Jokinen gave them the lead early in the second period. But little brother was unable to overcome big brother as Loui Erikkson and Erik Karlsson scored in a span of five minutes to snatch the lead away from Finland for good leading to another frustrating defeat.

As for USA, they had the pleasure of getting beat by Canada twice in two days. The women’s game was extremely frustrating as was the men’s.

USA came into the semifinal matchup against Canada as the highest scoring offensive team with 20 goals in four games. And that’s not including the four shootout goals by TJ Oshie which counted as one.

USA had knocked off Russia in the round robin and then dominated the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Canada almost went into Civil War over the lack of offense from their team and narrowly defeating Latvia 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
But Canada came out and dominated the USA with a commitment to a defensive game that had only allowed 3 goals in 4 games. The best player for the U.S. was Jonathan Quick who made 36 saves on 37 shots as he was under siege all night. But Carey Price and the Canadian defense were even more impressive as they stifled the U.S. offense and did not allow many good chances.

Canada which has not been impressive was able to rebound with a dominating performance reminding us all that they are still the top dog.

In the end, the U.S. has to respond and try to settle for bronze while Canada goes for a second straight gold against Sweden. Big Brother did it again just like they did in Vancouver and Salt Lake City.

For USA and Finland, the answer is that there is more growing up to do. There is more retooling of the roster and work to do to get bigger, faster and stronger.

But right now, it feels like big brother has given them an unsuspecting wet willie and noogie, again.

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Men’s Olympic Hockey Preview

Today marks the first day of the men’s Olympic Ice Hockey tournament. Huzzah! But, really, I am beyond excited. It’s besides the fact that the games are anywhere between 2am and 11am CT. I’m still going to wake up early and watch every second. For two weeks, twelve countries play for their countries, and for pride. Maybe this is the last time the NHL sends its players to the Olympic Games, maybe not. Either way, this is sure to be one of the better all-around tournaments. In my estimations, which shouldn’t mean a whole lot, a rematch of the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal game should happen. Canada and the USA, fighting for oh-so-glorious Gold once again, this time in Russia. Don’t count out Sweden, though. While they have key injuries to their forwards, their defense and goaltending should propel them to the best goals against average, as well as a medal. Russia, with all of the pressure, will probably play well. Unfortunately for them, they are in the toughest group,Group A, which also includes USA and Slovakia. So, we’ll see whether they crack or not. Speaking of Slovakia, I think they could be a wild card here. Although Marian Gaborik is no longer available for the tournament, they are a team filled with consistence and veteran experience. Likewise with Finland, as well as the Czech Republic. While all three teams are older, their experience could be huge. Not to mention, Finland has arguably the best goaltending core in Tuukka Rask and Antti Niemi. Should pose some problems in the later rounds. Still, the USA and Canada are the two best all-around teams and should meet again in the Gold Medal Match. I can’t wait.

Power Rankings:

  1. Canada
  2. USA
  3. Russia
  4. Sweden
  5. Finland
  6. Slovakia
  7. Czech Republic
  8. Switzerland
  9. Latvia
  10. Norway
  11. Austria
  12. Slovenia

Group A: Russia, Slovakia, United States, Slovenia

Group B: Finland, Canada, Norway, Austria

Group C: Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Latvia

Medal Predictions

Gold: Canada

Silver: USA

Bronze: Sweden (beating Russia)