GANGNEUNG, South Korea – The effort was more complete. The defense was better. The poise was resolute. The U.S. men’s hockey team looked like a completely different team in another tense situation Friday afternoon.
The result reflected that, too.
One game after melting down in a disappointing loss, Team USA pushed hard from start to finish to defeat Slovakia 2-1 at Gangneung Hockey Center.
“We kept our foot on the gas and didn’t let up,” said center Jordan Greenway, a Minnesota Wild prospect. “We kept the pressure on them and that led to a win.”
They did just the opposite in the Olympic opener against Slovenia. The Americans played a solid 40 minutes but fell apart once Slovenia made a hard charge in the third period.
Any concern about how the Americans would respond to that deflating loss went away almost immediately. They came out with high energy and physical play, and they used their speed to attack on offense.
“We learned from our mistakes,” forward Brian O’Neill said.
The win was important because Team USA couldn’t afford to fall to 0-2 in the preliminary round before they face Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) on Saturday.
OAR entered as gold-medal favorites but lost to Slovakia in the opener. OAR is widely considered to have the deepest and most talented team in the Olympics.
“Our advantage is our team speed,” forward Troy Terry said. “They may be bigger, but we have a really fast team. If we can make it more of a track meet and get up and down the ice really fast we can cause problems for them.”
The combination of their speed and two power-play goals by Ryan Donato was enough to knock off Slovakia.
Tied 1-1 after two periods, the Americans struck early in the third when Donato scored just seven seconds into a power play. Positioned along the goal line, Donato spun around to free himself and jammed the puck past goalie Jan Laco.
Donato, a junior at Harvard, is one of four college players on Team USA.
“Life is moving pretty fast right now,” he said.
The Americans felt like they didn’t make Slovenia’s goaltender work hard enough in their first game. They were almost too unselfish with passing and didn’t get enough pucks on net.
They outshot Slovakia 31-22 for the game, including a 24-13 advantage after two periods. Greenway, who turned 21 on Friday, led the way with a team-high four shots while centering the top line. The Boston University junior had another solid performance after scoring a goal in his Olympic debut.
The Americans scored first on a power play in the first period. Terry showed off his speed in weaving down the ice before dropping the puck to Donato, who blasted a slapshot that found the back of the net.
Momentum didn’t last long. Twenty-five seconds to be exact. On the next shift, Slovakia tied it on a soft goal that seemed to fool goalie Ryan Zapolski.
Slovakia came on a rush and Andrej Kudrna had the puck along the goal line, a few feet to Zapolski’s left. He flipped the puck on net and it rolled over Zapolski’s arm and into the net.
But unlike in the opener, the Americans didn’t fold or let their effort slip. They kept pushing hard and were rewarded with a win.