SPORTS

Canada beats Czech Republic in sledge hockey thriller

03/11/2014 02:06 EDT | Updated 05/11/2014 05:59 EDT
Team Canada came on strong right out of the gate on Tuesday, taking two solid shots in the first minute of their sledge hockey game against the Czech Republic at the Sochi Paralympics.

But it took another 21 and a half minutes before Canada got on the board. With 7:27 to go in the second period, captain Greg Westlake shot the puck off the top bar and into the corner of the net off a pass from forward Billy Bridges.

It was a much-needed goal for Canada, which wanted to remain undefeated in heading into the playoffs. They did it, but not without some stress.

By the end of the first period, Canada had just four shots on goal and the Czechs had three, sure proof that the weaker Czechs would be unwilling to give the game up without a fight.

The strongest player on the Czech team was easily goalie Michael Vapenka, who used his hulking size — he's six feet, four inches — to cover his crease relentlessly. He denied 18 of Canada's shots, many in the third period, drawing comparisons by the commentators to the Czech Republic's most famous goalie, former National Hockey League player Dominik Hasek.

By the middle of the final period, it was clear the Czechs needed a break to tie the game and keep them in it, but it never came.

They had a chance with 6:46 left to go, when Canada's Kevin Rempel got a two-minute penalty for hooking behind the Czech net. But strong goaltending by Canada's Corbin Watson — unbeaten in these Games — helped kill the power play and left the Czechs scoreless.

Canada's win means it will play in the semifinals as first seed. The semifinals begin Thursday at 5 a.m. ET (streaming live on cbc.ca/paralympics.)

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