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Josh Pauls is an American parahockey veteran. Since he represented the US at the Paralympics, his team has won gold three times in a row. Title number four will follow for the 29-year-old captain this Sunday. “I don’t just play hockey, I live it,” he once said in an interview.
In addition to Paralympic victories, Pauls amassed numerous world championship medals. He has been an integral part of the national team since his debut in 2008. He played a total of 18 games at the Paralympics, more than any other American player before.
But not only the USA, also the final opponent Canada has a legend in its own ranks: Tyler McGregor. On his 28th birthday, the striker scored four in the semifinal against Korea alone. He made his international debut in 2012 and has since held numerous medals, including a silver and bronze medal at the Paralympics. His achievements at the 2017 World Cup included scoring two goals in 17 seconds, scoring a hat-trick in the final against the USA, and exiting the tournament as the top scorer.
Canada vs. USA: El Clásico
“I’ve been playing hockey since I was three years old. I’ve dedicated my whole life to the sport,” McGregor told the Paralympics newspaper. The gold medal at the Paralympic Games is his long-awaited goal. “It’s everything I ever dreamed of.”
The duel between Canada and the United States is a true ice hockey classic. In the last five World Cups, these two teams have met in the final. Canada won twice and the United States three times. This final duel also took place at the 2018 Paralympic Games. In Pyeongchang, the United States won in extra time. Canadians’ motivation for revenge is correspondingly high. “It would be a huge relief,” says McGregor. Winning the Paralympic Games would be the most important thing for him, it is everything he has been working for all his life.
It remains to be seen how the game ends on Sunday (5:05 am German time). The Canadians clearly lost the preliminary round match in Beijing 0:5 against the US “Of course we didn’t want to start the tournament like that. That was a pretty disappointing performance,” says McGregor. Before the final, they analyzed their mistakes, but also adjusted things in preparation for the competition. “Last time our whole routine before the game just wasn’t right.” But the Canadian is sure that this time it will be different.
Mr. Potato Head: Successful Ritual on Josh Pauls
Both teams performed at their best in the semifinals, winning 11:0 against Korea (Canada) and China (USA). Never before have more goals been scored in a Paralympic semi-final. Perhaps a superstition helped the Americans in the end: Before each game, Josh Pauls places a small figure in the American locker room, facing the opposing locker room. He is “Mr Potato Head”, a known potato head from the movie Toy Story. Since Pauls established this ritual, the US has barely lost a game.
No matter how Sunday’s final plays out, it’s already clear in advance that Pauls and McGregor will play key roles. Both teams have extremely experienced and extremely successful players on their team. There are also other talents like Declan Farmer and Brody Roybal on the US side and Billy Bridges and Garrett Riley on the Canadian side. Will Mr. Potato Head make a difference in the end? Time will tell.