WEST CHESTER, Pa. — Josh Pauls and Steve Cash are U.S. National Team members because of their abilities as sled hockey players.
Now, they can also call themselves national champions.
Pauls and Cash led the way Sunday when the Disabled Athlete Sport Association (DASA) St. Louis Blues defeated the San Antonio Rampage 3-1 in the USA Hockey Sled National Championships at the Ice Lines Quad Rinks.
Finishing a high-scoring tournament over four days at the Ice Lines Quad Rinks, Pauls had two goals and an assist in the title game. Cash allowed just one goal for the fourth straight game and made a series of key stops in the fast-paced third period.
Finals were part of USA Hockey Disabled Festival, which began Thursday.
The Blues found themselves in the finals against the Rampage, a team that beat them in the tournament opener and was unbeaten for the event.
“We played each other seven or eight times and they’re almost always one-goal games,” Blues coach Steve Amsler said. “It came down to the wire each time we played.”
The Blues’ Sean Stueve scored with 1:20 left, after San Antonio had pulled its goalie for an extra attacker, to make the final margin two goals.
“We know what to expect from them,” Pauls said. “Every game, they’re going to come hard and they’re never going to quit.
“It’s always a hard-checking game and it’s always a fun, clean game.”
The players know each other well as both competitors and teammates.
While Pauls and Cash led the Blues, Josh Sweeney, Rico Roman and goalie Jen Yung Lee led the Rampage. All are members of the U.S. National Team.
Pauls, the youngest member of the 2010 squad that represented the country with a gold-medal-winning effort in the Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games, led the tournament in scoring.
“We have a team full of phenomenal players,” Amsler said. “They don’t rack up the stats, but they’re in every game and make great plays all the time.”
Some of those plays freed Pauls to rack up stats.
Pauls had the only goal in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to San Antonio. During a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Paul had two goals and assisted Justin Howard on the other. The Blues advanced to the semifinals by finishing pool play with an 8-1 win over the UNH Wildcats in which Pauls had four goals and three assists. Stueve added a goal and two assists, and Jason Malady had a goal and an assist. Cash made 16 saves.
To reach the final, St. Louis had to fight past the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in overtime in the semifinals. Pauls scored twice, including the game-winner 1:17 into the five-minute extra session. Adam Page, another national team player, had both goals, including one shorthanded, for Buffalo.
St. Louis won the Tier II title at nationals last season but moved up to take the biggest championship available at sled hockey nationals.
“That was awesome, but you can’t beat this,” said Pauls, a 20-year-old from New Jersey who is in his second season on the team while studying Sport Management at Lindenwood University in Missouri. “We beat Buffalo, we beat San Antonio, we beat Pittsburgh, all the great teams that are here.
“Sled hockey has come so far, even just in the last year.”
Pauls made sure the Blues ended up on top of that list. With the championship game scoreless almost five minutes into the second period, Pauls opened the scoring on a breakaway.
“I saw I had a chance going up ice and figured ‘why not take it?’” Pauls said.
The game remained at 1-0 when San Antonio took a penalty with 10:25 left. Instead of a chance for St. Louis to break the game open, Sweeney and Roman turned the short-handed situation into an opportunity for San Antonio, creating three quality chances, each of which was stopped by Cash.
Pauls then extended the lead with 5:51 left. He made a length-of-the-ice rush up the left side, passed three defenders as he cut to the right moving through the slot and lifted a shot into the far corner.
“I was trying to have them get in each other’s way,” Pauls said. “I tried to confuse them and kind of weave in and out. Good things happen when you put it on net. It doesn’t matter how hard you shoot it if you put it in a spot they can’t get to.”
San Antonio rallied with 3:31 left. Pauls stopped Roman just inside the blue line on the left side, but Roman got off a crossing pass to Luke McDermott, who scored with a quick shot.
With the Rampage using an extra attacker, Pauls won a race to the puck in the offensive right corner and dropped a pass along the boards to Stueve.
McDermott tried to stop Stueve’s shot and got a stick on it, but the puck trickled across the goal line for the clinching goal.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.