March 7, 2014 (ISN) – The opening matchup of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games ice sledge hockey schedule will have major implications on the tournament standings going forward when the competition begins on Saturday (8 March) at 9:30 (MSK).
No. 4 Czech Republic will face off against No. 5 Norway in the opening game in Group A competition at Shayba Arena.
A win for either team would not only start them off on the right foot, but could also prove to be a difference maker once the Group A preliminary round ends.
“The Canada game can go however, but against Czech Republic and Sweden, we should, and have to win. I guess the two other teams (Czech Republic and Sweden) think the same, but that’s our plan,” Norwegian defenceman Morten Vaernes said.
Group A’s preliminary round action continues at 13:00 when top-seeded world champions Canada face No. 8 Sweden.
Sweden have been a team in a bit of a rebuild for the last year and were left disappointed in Goyang, South Korea, with their eighth-place finish at the 2013 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool. They managed to secure the final Sochi seed with a 4-3 win over Japan in the bronze-medal game of the 2013 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Qualification Tournament in Torino, Italy.
Canadian defenceman Adam Dixon has not played against Sweden since the Vancouver 2010 Games, and thinks that Saturday will be a bit of an adjustment.
“They probably have a very different team than they had in Vancouver and that’s something we’ll have to adjust to on the fly, and maybe we’ll even play our game and make them adjust to us,” Dixon said.
Canada will be looking to medal for the first time in ice sledge hockey since Torino 2006 when they struck gold. At Vancouver 2010, they missed the podium after losing to Norway in the bronze-medal game.
Italy will have a tough task on their hands when they meet USA in Group B action at 16:30.
The USA are the defending Paralympic champions and won silver at the last World Championships.
“The key thing is that you can’t look back to the past and try to repeat history,” USA goaltender Steve Cash said. “What we did back in 2010 was obviously unbelievable and may never be repeated again.
“Now we are just focusing on Sochi. That’s been on our minds for the last four years. It’s been an incredible journey and nothing would be better than topping it with being on top.”
Rounding out Day 1 action will be the host country, Russia, against South Korea at 20:00.
Russia have been a team on the rise since their inception prior to the 2010 Paralympics. Last year, they placed third at the World Championships, defeating the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal game.
For South Korea, they earned their No. 6 ranking by edging out Italy in a shootout at the Qualification Tournament.
When Russia and South Korea met at last year’s World Championships, Russia barely beat them, 2-1. Russian forward Dmitry Lisov scored a goal and an assist in the win.
With hosting the Games comes added pressure, and Russia’s head coach Sergei Samoylov said that his team notices it.
“Of course, everybody feels it. It’s not so much pressure as responsibility, a great responsibility before the fans, the team and the management that took care of us and is taking care of us,” Samoylov said.