The Winter Olympics are over and PyeongChang has likely faded into your periphery. But there’s another wintry event of significance happening in South Korea right now, one that deserves your attention: The 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. The games kicked off on March 9, and over the past week, athletes from nearly 50 countries have competed in six sports, from alpine skiing to wheelchair curling and snowboarding.
Although the closing ceremonies happen on Sunday, there are a handful of gold medals still to give out. Perhaps the most exciting of those will happen in the early hours of Sunday morning: the sled hockey gold medal match between Canada and the United States. If there was ever a reason to keep your child awake into the wee hours for a sporting event, it’s this.
While the Winter Olympics have sports that you can catch on TV outside of the games (hockey is on everywhere; curling’s rising popularity makes it easier to follow if you so wish; there are plenty of figure skating World Championships on TV), it’s likely that this is a once-every-four-years chance to watch sled hockey. And you need to experience it.
As its name makes it sound, sled hockey is a game where competitors play hockey on sleds: as the players are not able to skate, they slide around the ice on sleds. Athletes propel themselves on the ice with their sticks, which have metal spikes on one end to help grip the ice. Aside from that, most of the rules are similar to hockey, with one extremely savage exception: you can’t “tee” an opponent, or crash into them purposefully with the front part of the sled.
Given that it requires less pure physical strength and speed than regular hockey, sled hockey also has a wider age-range; famously, there were five players clocking in at older than 50 years old at this year’s Paralympic Winter Games. It’s a unique experience of the kind that kids are not normally exposed to, and it might give them more of an appreciation of how grueling and challenging the Paralympics are for the athletes.
Aside from that, this specific gold medal matchup is worth checking out for sheer quality. The U/S. and Canada have been clearly the best teams in the tournament so far. The Americans didn’t allow a goal until the semi-finals against Italy (in a game they won 10-1), but they still head into the gold medal game with a goal ratio of 38-1. Canada has been even more impressive; after their 7-0 drubbing of hosts South Korea in the semis, the Canadians have a 42-0 goals record throughout the tournament.
There’s also a big rivalry. The two countries met in last year’s World Championship final in Gangneung, South Korea, with Canada taking the gold there by a score of 4-1, although the U.S. won their matchup in the preliminary round 2-1. When it comes to Paralympic competition, however, the U.S. has had the full upper hand this decade: the Stars and Stripes won gold at both the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi and 2010 in Vancouver. The U.S. was the first country to win back-to-back golds in the event, and so they look to lock in their place as the best sled hockey team in history by locking up the sport’s first gold medal trifecta.
For their part, Canada has more modest dreams in mind: Despite their dominance in this year’s tournament, Canada only managed bronze in 2014 and hasn’t won gold since the 2006 games in Torino. Not even medaling at home in 2010 was a massive disappointment for the Canadians, who will look to throw themselves back into the conversation for best team in the world with a victory over the U.S. in PyeongChang.
While there might be other things on the cards for a Saturday night, families could do a lot worse than staying in and snuggling up to watch some late-night sled hockey. Puck drop is at 11 p.m. EST, and the match will be broadcast live on NBC SN. Why not open your kids up to a brand new experience, one that is rare in the mainstream? That the game features a heated rivalry with the highest of stakes is just a bonus. Whether you’re rooting for the U.S., or supporting Canada, the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games gold medal match will give you a new obsession.