TODAY   |  March 16, 2014

US Paralympic hockey team overcame tragedy to compete at Sochi

For the Team USA hockey team competing at the Sochi Paralympics, the journey for every athlete has been filled with tragedy and hard work — and many say sled hockey saved them. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren reports.

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>>> there's a big matchup happening in just a few hours on the ice in sochi, russia . it's a rivalry for the ages, a fight for gold between the united states and russia in the paralympic sport of sled hockey . kristen dahlgren is following the action this morning. kristen , good morning.

>> good morning, lester. so excited about this one. some could argue that there are few rivalries in sport that match that of usa versus russia in hockey, and this year, team usa has something to prove after failing to medal in men's hockey in the olympics . add that to athletes who have overcome incredible odds off the ice, and today's paralympic matchup might just be history in the making . there are few moments of national pride like 1980's miracle on ice. paralympic rico roman, who lost his leg in an ied attack in iraq has his way --

>> i want to do something that wins that gold.

>> scores!

>> reporter: this is his moment.

>> i feel like i'm still representing my country, just in a different way.

>> reporter: roman is joined by three other combat veterans on the u.s. sled hockey team, as well as men like goalie steve cass, who lost his leg to cancer.

>> having that dream follow me along my hockey career is something you really can't put into words.

>> reporter: for them all, it has been a journey filled with tragedy and hard work, and many say sled hockey saved them. it isn't easy. instead of skates, players sit in a sled. they carry two sticks, one side to hit the puck, ice picks on the other side for speed. it could be exhausting and rough. and in today's match, there is a lot on the line.

>> vladimir putin has been extremely bullish with what he expects from russian athletes in the olympics .

>> canada has won!

>> reporter: just weeks ago on the same sochi ice, team usa fell short in the olympics , out of medal contention. since then, conflict has erupted in the ukraine and tensions have risen between russia and the u.s. the u.s. withdrew its delegation to the paralympics opening ceremony, but for roman, who once won the purple heart , there is just one goal, another golden moment.

>> i want to be there and contribute, maybe be the winning goal, who knows?

>> so, the two teams have met earlier this week in a preliminary game. russia won that one, so this team has a lot to prove. clearly, though, they are already an inspiration to all of us.

>> all right. kristen , thanks so much. you can watch the gold medal game between the usa and russia on nbc today . check your local listings for the exact time.