Day one of men’s Olympic hockey competition was chaotic, beautiful, and it belonged to David.
Two Olympic hockey Goliaths were taken to their knees in the first day of men’s play in Gangneung, as the odds-on favourite to win gold (Russia) and the United States were toppled during the event’s first two preliminary contests on Wednesday. The Americans let one slip away to Slovenia after building a 2-0 lead, while the Russians — or Olympic Athletes from Russia — also blew a two-zip advantage and fell 3-2 to the Slovaks.
Many were wondering what kind of impact the NHL’s decision not to send players to the Games would have on the Olympic tournament. Though it’s just 24 hours in, the early slate of games showed us that the level playing field and parity most people expected to rule this tournament may even be more prevalent than first thought.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.
The United States built a 2-0 lead and a 24-12 shot advantage on Slovenia through two periods, but got completely manhandled by a hockey country almost solely known for producing Anze Kopitar in the third frame. The Americans surrendered two goals in the game’s final 15 minutes before giving up the winner just 38 seconds into overtime.
Jordan Greenway, the first African American to ever suit up for the men’s Olympic hockey team, and Yale graduate Brian O’Neill tallied for the USA, while it was Slovenia’s only player with NHL experience who led the comeback. Captain Jan Mursak, who had four points in 46 career NHL games with the Detroit Red Wings, tied it up with 1:37 left in regulation and netted the OT winner before the ice could dry. Goaltender Gasper Kroselj stopped 34 of 36 shots for the win.
The American’s loss was definitely a bad one, but OAR getting dropped by Slovakia — in regulation no less — is even more of a mind-bender. Russia — comprised pretty much strictly of high-end KHL players while boasting former NHL superstars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk on its roster — built up a 2-0 lead on goals by Vladislav Gavrikov and Kirill Kaprizov.
It was a fierce start for OAR, but that’s where it ended, as Slovakia bounced back with two goals on four shots to end the frame. After a scoreless second, the Slovaks jumped all over the OAR’s sloppy play before 25-year-old, Peterborough Petes alumnus Peter Ceresnak collected the winner on a powerplay off yet another second delay-of-game penalty from the Russians.
“We were the ones who gave away the game,” Russian head coach Oleg Znarok said in a post game press conference.
Format: All 12 teams move onto the qualification round, with the top four overall seeds getting a direct bye to the quarter-finals and the bottom eight facing off in the first playoff round.
USA: The Americans picked up a point with the OT loss and sit second in the group. It’s still possible to earn a bye through to the quarters, but USA will need to find its game quick and beat both Russia and Slovakia, preferably in regulation, to have a chance at a top-four seed.
Russia: The Russians are probably still the favourite to grab gold but, man, this loss was a tough one. Russia will need to win out against the USA and Slovenia to earn a bye, and another loss could see them end up with a terrible path to the gold medal game.
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