WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Chicago Blackhawks coach Derek Daniels knew that if his team keyed on the Gaylord Wolfpack’s Declan Farmer and Jack Wallace, his team stood a very good chance of winning the USA Hockey Sled Hockey National Championship on Sunday.
In containing the two Paralympic gold medalists, that is exactly what happened.
Brody Roybal scored three goals and Justin Kreger came up with a number of big saves in leading Chicago to a 6-2 victory over the Wolfpack at AdventHealth Center Ice.
“Their big guns, Declan and Jack, were coming hard to the pipes,” said Daniels. “Our game plan the whole time was to defend them regardless and take advantage of our breaks when we got them. We worked on spreading the ice. Their speed is mostly with those two guys and we have more speed throughout each of our positions. We knew if we could get them running from side to side it would result in giving us opportunities on their net.”
Chicago scored twice within 30 seconds in the opening period to take a 2-0 lead. Roybal scored the first of his three goals at 4:14. Wolfpack goalie Ryan Sparks appeared to have made the save on Roybal’s shot from the slot, but the puck trickled past Sparks and slid over the goal line.
At 4:44, Roybal set up Travis Dodson to make it 2-0. That would be the score after the opening period.
“They came out and played really hard,” said Roybal, who along with Farmer is a two-time Paralympic gold medalist. “Jack and Declan are great players and it was a lot of fun playing them. I think the best games we had this weekend were against them.”
In a second-round game Friday evening between the teams, Roybal factored in nine of his team’s goals — scoring six himself — in a 10-4 win.
“We’re disappointed, of course, that we didn’t come out with the win, but I thought our guys battled,” said Gaylord coach Rob Ruggiero. “Their goalie had an extremely hot glove. We had chances to score and he was amazing.”
Indeed, Chicago’s 38-year-old goaltender, Justin Kreger, had quite a game. Though the Blackhawks keyed on Farmer and Wallace, the Wolfpack managed to get a few prime scoring opportunities. Alas, Kreger often had the answer, though he gave much credit to the guys in front of him.
“Having the speed that we do with Brody, Travis and Kevin [McKee], they took it to Declan and Jack, which certainly helps,” said Kreger. “Keeping those guys under control was a huge help for me. They did get some opportunities and I have to do my part for the team. While I had a lot of help, I needed to do my job, too.”
The Blackhawks did their job with building on the lead. Dodson roofed a shot over Sparks for his second goal and what proved to be the game-winner at 4:47 of the second period to make it 3-0.
“They are a very quick team and come at you in waves,” said Sparks. “They have a lot of firepower. You make the saves you can, but they keep coming. I wish I could get a couple of the goals back, but you live and learn and shake it off.”
With Chicago leading 4-0 in the latter stages of the third period, the teams combined for three goals in 15 seconds. The Blackhawks emerged from that flurry with a 5-2 lead.
At 11:27, Farmer had an opportunity to bring the Wolfpack to within two, but Kreger’s glove save on a low shot ticketed for the far side prevented that from happening.
Joseph Gugliotta left no doubt as to the outcome when his goal with 2:26 remaining accounted for the final margin.
“Our goalie played out of his mind,” said Roybal. “As a team, we moved the puck well and played real well together. We have been on a roll, but we have been keeping it light. It’s just a game and we are having fun.”
The roll Roybal referenced was Chicago winning the NHL Classic in February and the Wirtz Cup in March. The Blackhawks made it a hat trick in Wesley Chapel.
“It’s the end of the season and this win was a culmination after winning the two other classics,” said Daniels. “We have played injuries and roster changes this year and we wanted to come down here and win this one. We got the trifecta. It means a lot to these guys.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.