Slovakia stunned Team USA in their Olympic men’s ice hockey quarterfinal, tying the game in the final minute of regulation and then eliminating the tournament’s top seed in a shootout on Wednesday in Beijing.
Former Boston Bruins winger Peter Cehlarik scored the lone goal of the shootout on Slovakia’s fourth attempt, beating U.S. goalie Strauss Mann (34 saves). The U.S. was unsuccessful on all five shots against Slovakia goalie Patrik Rybar (33 saves), including the final attempt by captain Andy Miele. Certainly a disappointment for Hockey fans in this Olympic games but not something to dissuade the loyal from making informed picks for the NHL season concerning the individual players.
“I believed in it,” Cehlarik said. “I believe in this team.”
The U.S. men’s ice hockey team leaves Beijing without a medal, making this three straight Olympics without one. Their last Winter Games hardware was the silver medal they won in Vancouver in 2010. They haven’t won gold since the “Miracle on Ice” of 1980.
Team USA entered the third period with a 2-1 lead on goals by Nick Abruzzese (first period) and Sam Hentges (second period). They squandered a chance to increase their advantage with a 5-on-3 power play, the result of Rybar covering the puck outside of his goal crease for a delay of game penalty. The Americans didn’t have a shot on net. They had another power play with less than five minutes to play and couldn’t convert on that, either. For the game, they failed to score in 6:38 of power-play ice time.
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That failure came back to haunt them. Slovakia’s Marek Hrivik scored with 44 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 2, smacking the puck in on a deflected point shot with his goalie pulled. The Slovak bench celebrated, and the game was headed to a 3-on-3 overtime and then, eventually, Slovakia’s shootout win.
“We get the 5-on-3 and, really, that was the game-changer,” U.S. coach David Quinn said. “When you’ve got a 5-on-3 in that scenario and you don’t capitalize on it, you’re giving that other team a lot of hope, and they capitalized.”
For the third time in a row, the U.S. conceded the first goal of the game in the first period, this time a snipe from 17-year-old Slovakian phenom Juraj Slafkovsky 11:45 in. It was Slafkovsky’s fifth goal in five games. He is the second-highest-ranked international skater by NHL Central Scouting and is expected to be a lottery pick in this summer’s NHL draft.
But for the third straight game, the U.S. erased that deficit with a tying goal in the first period, as Seattle Kraken top prospect Matty Beniers set up Harvard University forward Abruzzese with a gorgeous pass, allowing him to slip the puck through Rybar with 46 seconds left in the period.
“I thought we had a great start to the period. We got down, but we stayed confident,” Miele said.
The U.S. took the lead 8:56 into the second period as their fourth line came through. Forward Nathan Smith slowly entered the Slovak zone and passed to defenseman Nick Perbix, who found forward Hentges all alone in front of the crease for the 2-1 lead. Perbix and Hentges, who scored his first goal of the Olympics, are teammates at St. Cloud State University. The Americans began the third period on the power play.
“We needed to get back to the way we played in the round robin. We were trying to make the most difficult play, and that’s not our style,” Hentges said.
Both teams had their chances in the overtime. U.S. defenseman Brock Faber blocked a shot on a 2-on-1. Matt Knies nearly won it at the buzzer of overtime, but it was turned aside by Rybar.
Brendan Brisson, Sean Farrell, Knies, Smith and Miele couldn’t convert in the shootout. Curiously absent from the U.S. shootout was Beniers, who was its best player in the 3-on-3.
The U.S. was outshot by Slovakia 37-35. The Americans played much of the game without forward Brian O’Neill, the only returning member of their 2018 Olympic team. He played a Martin Marincin shot with his foot and left the game after 9:16 of ice time.
“That shows a lot: He sacrificed his body for the better of the team, and that’s Brian,” Miele said. “It was tough to lose him, but if you’re going to lose someone sacrificing for the team like that, that’s the best way to go.”
The Olympic tournament reseeds after the semifinals. Slovakia, which will play for a medal for the first time since 2010, was the eighth-ranked team in the tournament after group play.
“It’s amazing that it’s happening,” Slafkovsky said. “I can’t wait to play in the semifinals.”
The U.S. was undefeated (3-0) entering the game, having earned the top seed in the medal-round tournament after group play. The Americans were the youngest team in the tourney, carrying upward of 15 current NCAA players on their roster.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow, it really is, just losing in any fashion,” Quinn said. “No disrespect to Slovakia or anybody; we just felt so good about the direction of our team and the way we were playing.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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