Canadian Greg Westlake stole the show tonight at the 2013 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Toronto, netting a hat trick to lead Canada past the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, 4-1.
The preliminary round finale of the tournament was the first meeting between the two teams since April at the International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool, where Canada defeated Team USA, 1-0, in the gold medal game.
It was not the start the Americans were looking for. Tyler McGregor got the scoring going for Canada at 5:07 of the first period when he got a shot off in the slot to beat USA starting goaltender Steve Cash.
Four minutes later, it was the Canadian captain Westlake who got one past the glove of Cash for his first goal of the game.
Westlake would score on the power play before the intermission, and just like that, Canada had a 3-0 lead going into the first intermission.
"We got off to a real good start, had a great first period," said Canadian head coach Mike Mondin. "The second period the Americans pushed back and then in the third period they came at us pretty hard but we weathered the storm."
Indeed, the Americans did push back in the second period, increasing their physical play on Canada but to no avail, as neither team was able to find the back of the net.
In the third period, it was all Team USA, dominating the tempo of play and playing the majority of the period in the Canadian end.
Just under three minutes into the period, Alexi Salamone scored his second goal of the tournament to cut the Canadian lead to within two. Westlake would later score his third goal of the game to add an insurance marker and secure the victory.
Canada's starting goaltender Corbin Watson faced 13 shots in the third period while his offence only mustered two shots. Overall, Watson turned aside 24 shots in the win while Cash made 15 saves in the loss.
All the talk after the game was about how much Canada can still improve.
"It's a frustrating game for the team and it's kind of a mixed game for me as captain," Westlake said. "I'm happy with the stats and the hat trick, but I'm not pleased that we didn't play a good 45 minutes. We've got to get a lot better."
Both Mondin and Westlake agreed that "everything" needs to improve but looking at the positives, Mondin was impressed with the defence of his squad.
"I thought we played a very good game defensively in our own end," said Mondin. "We were happy with our defensive play our positioning was good. That's something that we've really tried to make a priority and we've tried to work on."
Earlier in the day, Russia defeated South Korea 9-1 on the strength of Nikolay Terentyev's five-point performance, which included four goals.
Terentyev got the scoring started for Russia with two first period goals and his team led 3-0 going into the first intermission.
Jong-Ho Jang cut the least to within two just 1:13 into the second period, but that was the only offence that South Korea could manage all game. Russia came back with six unanswered goals to pick up their first win at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge.
Only five Russian skaters didn't find the score sheet come game's end with Dmitry Lisov also having a solid game, racking up four assists.
Man-Gyun Yu suffered the loss for South Korea, letting in all nine Russian goals while Mikhail Ivanov only had to make five saves for the win.
Next up, the USA will play Russia in the first semi-final at 1 p.m. EST on Thursday while Canada faces off against South Korea at 6 p.m.
Fans can to watch the World Sledge Hockey Challenge online at www.FastHockey.com.
All four of these teams have already qualified for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.