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World Para Ice Hockey Championship Semi-Final USA 9, South Korea 0: Nearly There

Captain Josh Pauls scores twice as Team U.S.A. puts together a near perfect performance to earn their spot in the gold medal match up.

After meeting on Tuesday in the preliminary round, Team U.S.A. and Team Korea faced off again today in the first semi final game of the 2021 World Championships. Their previous match up saw U.S.A - led by forward Brody Roybal’s four goals - dominate Korea throughout the entire three periods. Team Korea was looking to carry their overtime quarter finals victory momentum into the game against U.S.A. When the game ended, which team is headed to the World Championship Finals?

Period One

Team U.S.A. jumped off to a quick start right off the puck drop heading immediately into the offensive zone. The first shots by U.S.A. went just wide of the net. Team U.S.A. found their groove and a wide open net with a perfect pass from David Eustace to Josh Hargis who put the puck in a gaping goal at 2:59. Team U.S.A. 1-0.

Korea, not wanting the USA to gain any extra momentum after the opening goal, worked to spread the game out and keep play from the front of their net. U.S.A. was able to gather the puck and return on the attack. Despite a handful of pressure, Korea’s Lee Jae Woong kept the puck out until Noah Groves punched one past at 7:07. Team U.S.A. up 2-0.

A mere half minute later, Captain Josh Pauls sailed in and sent a shot through the tightening Korean defense and over Woong’s glove to suddenly bring the goal tally to 3.

In an effort to pause the onslaught, Korea took a time out to interrupt the building momentum and came back on the ice a bit more settled. U.S.A. continued to seek out any small passing lanes a regrouping Korean defense provided. Korea was able to clear the puck several times and give themselves brief moments of respite.

Korea, not unfamiliar with the penalty box due to their aggressive play, headed there instead for a flustered too many men on the ice penalty, and the U.S.A. power play went to work. Korea’s Woong stopped some near goals, and Korea survived the two minutes and the remaining period with no more damage done. U.S.A. up 3-0.

Period Two

As the second period began, U.S.A. goalie Jen Lee took the ice in place of starter Steve Cash - providing Cash with extra rest to prepare for what appeared to be a future gold medal match for Team U.S.A. It looked like the only other change would be the end of the ice worn down by the action. Korea tried to move the action away from their net. Each time Korea was able to clear the puck, Team U.S.A. circled around to the Korean zone again and again.

Woong handled the shots assaulting him, keeping Korea from drowning under Team U.S.A. pressure. Korea caught its first real break of the game when U.S.A. had to send a man to the sin bin for a charging call. Korea started play with their first encounter near a U.S.A. net minder , but after a clear Korea struggled to play defense against the four players in blue in front of their own net.

Korea may have breathed a sigh of relief clearing the zone with less than six minutes left to go in the period, but a stretch pass to Declan Farmer left Woong with no support as Farmer came streaking into the zone and scored the fourth goal of the game - and surprisingly, Farmer’s first of the tournament.

The game continued to unravel for Korea as Woong couldn’t corral a rebound and in the net front swarm, Josh Misiewicz snuck his stick past the goalie’s glove and nudged the puck into the net. The goal went to replay to clarify if Woong already had possession of the puck, but after review the goal stood, and Team U.S.A. took a 5-0 lead.

Korea got their first chance to threaten offensively with less than two minutes in the period remaining, but Jen Lee stayed focused and after a handful of passes, U.S.A. cleared the puck and set up once again to pepper Woong with the puck. Korea was able to keep U.S.A. from piling on their lead, and the period ended 5-0.

Period Three

The shooting onslaught continued as the final period unfolded. Brody Roybal finally added to the score with a combination of terrific skating, puck handling, and shooting nearly halfway through the period. Team U.S.A. 6-0.

A rare and brief attack by Korea quickly shifted to defense as Team U.S.A.’s transition speed put Korea on their heels. Shots by Dodson, Hargis, and Roybal didn’t make their way past Woong, but definitely kept Team Korea occupied and scrambling. The defense wasn’t likely to hold for long, and Captain Josh Pauls scored his second goal of the game off of a perfectly placed pass from Travis Dodson. 7-0.

A frantic, messy scramble in front of the Korean net sent the puck past a fumbling Woong startling everyone for goal number 8 credited to Josh Misiewicz. Another mishandled rebound was scooped up by Kevin McKee and planted in back of the net once again, quickly making the score 9-0.

Korea limped to the final buzzer a man down after a late interference call, and Team U.S.A. easily skated to the win. Team U.S.A. is heading to the gold medal match on Saturday and will face either Team Canada or Team RPC.

Three Things:

  1. Korea never got their bearings - The Korean team usually plays a defensively tight, aggressive game, but they never found their groove. Whether the overtime game against Norway had them fatigued or the early goal by Hargis hatched a stunting sense of dread, they will have to refocus for their bronze medal match.
  2. Team U.S.A. is peaking at the perfect time. U.S.A.’s opening game against Canada started off a gear slow and a bit chaotic. Losing to Canada and the outstanding play of Czech goalie Kudela in game two could have resulted in frustration for Team U.S.A. but they channeled that energy into clearer focus and growing chemistry that is paying off right when they want it to.
  3. Who will Team U.S.A. see in the gold medal match on Saturday? The upcoming Canada versus RPC game will be an exciting one to watch. Of course, bets are on a repeat of the U.S.A./Canada gold medal match from 2019, but Team RPC has dominated in each of their games this tournament and could give Canada their toughest challenge yet.