(ISN) – With just one month to go until the 2015 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool in Buffalo, USA, Paralympic champion Josh Sweeney has said he believes Russia will be using the tournament to exact revenge for their loss to the USA in the Sochi 2014 gold medal match.
At last March’s Paralympic Winter Games, Russia defeated USA in the group stages 2-1, but lost out 1-0 in the final to their arch rivals courtesy of a second period breakaway goal from Sweeney.
Like in Sochi, the two teams have been drawn together in the same group at Buffalo 2015 and Sweeney thinks Russia will want to go one step further at the World Championships which take place between 26 April and 3 May.
“I definitely think the Russians will be out for revenge,” said the 27-year-old who was a former able-bodied high school ice hockey player who was drawn to sledge hockey while in rehab for an injury he received while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan.
Sweeney could be right, as the Russians recently gained even more of an incentive to topple the Paralympic champions at Buffalo 2015. The USA narrowly beat their rivals 2-1 in overtime in the final of the 2015 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in February, courtesy of a winning goal from Josh Pauls.
Back at Sochi 2014, Russia’s silver medal success was a remarkable achievement, given that the team only took up the sport in 2008. In 2013 they showed their intent for the Paralympic Winter Games however by winning World Championships bronze in Goyang, South Korea, behind eventual world champions Canada and silver medallists USA.
Sweeney said: “Russia have progressed so fast and become silver medallists. They obviously have been working very hard. They were also smart out there in Sochi and that [final] game was certainly worthy of a gold medal. It surprised me.”
Despite his expectations for Russia at Buffalo 2015, Sweeney also thinks defending champions Canada will not give up their world title without a fight and that European power houses Norway should not be discounted.
“Canada won the Worlds back in 2013 and they definitely are always right there. We never know who is going to finish on top.
“Each time we go into these tournaments, we are just hoping we finish on top due to the amount of good teams there are now playing against us.
“I always feel that US v Canada would be a good final, but after playing Russia in the preliminary round and the gold medal match in Sochi, I’d almost like to play them again to see what happens.
“Every team could come and play amazingly. Norway could be on top, especially because they play so smart. USA, Russia and Canada like to get ahead of ourselves and do a lot forechecking and be maybe a little too rough, but Norway is very smart and move the puck well.”
The eight teams competing in Buffalo have been split into two groups, with only the top two teams in each progressing through to the semi-finals.
Defending champions and Sochi bronze medallists Canada are drawn in Group A alongside Czech Republic, Norway and Japan.
Group B will feature hosts USA, who finished with world silver in 2013, Russia, Italy and Germany. The opening day of matches on Sunday (26 April) will be headlined by a USA v Russia clash.