SOCHI, Russia - The United States defended their Paralympic champion title in sledge hockey Saturday, winning 1-0 against Russia in a gruelling game that sent hockey sticks flying and at times resembled baseball.
The Russian team, created in 2010, settled for silver in their Paralympic debut in Sochi, while Canada got the bronze medal after beating Norway earlier in the day.
The Russians had the support of over 6,000 fans packing the arena in Sochi, but made one mistake by accidentally passing to a player from the rival team who scored the decisive goal.
"We played well, just made one mistake," said Russian defender Vadim Selyukin. "This silver was hard won."
Russia previously beat the US team 2-1 in a preliminary game, which was the point when the players "started to believe that a medal is possible," Selyukin said, dedicating his silver to his family and his buddies from the marine regiment where he served in Chechnya and lost his legs.
As players on both sides got frustrated after the first period ended with neither side scoring, athletes regularly lost their hockey sticks and sent the puck flying overhead, with Russia's Alexei Amosov hitting it once in mid-air like a top-notch baseball player.
"It's an incredible feeling, everyone has worked so hard," said Andy Yohe, a defence player on the US team, on winning in the Paralympics again.
To make up for the outnumbered US fans present in the arena, the US team was cheered on by millions of Americans watching the game at home live on NBC, in what organisers said was unprecedented for the Paralympics.
"We knew it would be a crazy atmosphere," Yohe said of the roaring home crowd. "We just relaxed and played our game."