SOCHI, RUSSIA – So much for any thought of a letdown. Phil Kessel made sure that wouldn’t happen.
Kessel scored the first of his three goals 64 seconds after the opening faceoff to spark Team USA to a 5-1 men’s hockey victory against Slovenia at Shayba Arena.
Kessel’s quick-trigger scoring erased any worry Team USA might come out flat after winning an emotional game against host Russia in a shootout less than 24 hours earlier.
“It was certainly a concern after the emotional game and getting ready for this game,” U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said. “In the end we were fortunate that right out of the gate we got a couple of great skill plays and two goals there to get us that lead. To get up like we did — I thought that was very big for our team to look up and see the scoreboard and know that we were up in that game.”
Kessel scored his second goal 4:33 into the first period, and the U.S. had control from that point on. The former Gopher completed his hat trick in the second period, becoming the first U.S. player to record a hat trick in the Olympics since John LeClair in 2002 against Finland.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the win,” Kessel said. “We can still improve more, and we have to get a lot better.”
Team USA remained undefeated in three games and earned an automatic berth in the quarterfinals. It will play the winner of Tuesday’s Slovakia vs. Czech Republic qualification round game on Wednesday.
Team USA’s other two goals came from Minnesota natives: David Backes and Ryan McDonagh. Joe Pavelski added three assists.
“Phil made a couple of good plays, a couple of good shots,” Pavelski said. “I just try to get them the puck when I can. It is good he is on our side right now.”
T.J. Oshie, the hero in the victory against Russia, finished with one assist. Oshie scored on four of six shootout attempts against Russia, including the winner in the eighth round. His clutch performance earned him newfound celebrity.
He added more than 100,000 new followers on Twitter and even received a tweet from President Obama.
“When someone told me that, I didn’t really believe them,” Oshie said. “Someone actually showed it to me. For him to go out of his way from his busy life and take the time to congratulate my teammates and I is pretty special.”
Team USA gave goalie Jonathan Quick a break Sunday and started Ryan Miller for the first time in these Games. Miller faced only 18 shots.
“I was kind of nervous when the coach told me I was playing,” Miller said. “I knew how important it was to build on the victories we have achieved so far. I think we performed very well as a team.”