Friday afternoon, after having been handed an overtime loss by Slovenia on Wednesday night, Team USA certainly needed a win. Slovakia beat the Olympic Athlete from Russia in their opening tilt of the preliminary round, so they were looking to repeat.
While the tempo of the skating was good, the Americans weren’t able to get their first shot on net for the first 6:10 of the opening period. Such delays in testing the opposing goaltender are not an especially strong way to play and could hurt the Americans in future games.
Marek Horvaka of the Slovenian team would be whistled for a hooking penalty 41 seconds after Team USA made their first shot on goal. Nineteen seconds later, Ryan Donato would get the Americans on the score board, assisted by Troy Terry and Chris Bourque. Unfortunately USA would not be able to enjoy the lead for very long. Just 25 seconds later Andrej Kudrna would get the equalizer for Slovakia, assisted by Tomas Surovy and Michal Cajkovsky.
Slovakia would find itself down a man once more in the first period, when Ivan Baranka was sent to the box for a boarding penalty. Team USA was unable to capitalize on this power play. As the period wound down, the score was tied at one each, but the shots on goal were 8-6 Slovakia.
Early in the second period, the United States had a couple of chances, one of which Jan Laco denied, and the other that was blocked. There was some north and south play, and Slovakia did its best to get ahead in the match. They would be hampered by two additional penalties; a high sticking call on Milos Bubela and a holding penalty to Juraj Valach, Neither time were the Americans able to capitalize. Jordan Greenway would be called for the first penalty on the Americans, for a goaltender interference, which seemed hard for him to avoid given how he was being forced over by a Slovakian player. Captain Brian Gionta tried to plead the case for his young teammate, but, as usually happens, the penalty call stood.
Perhaps the most disturbing moment of the game was about halfway through the period when the puck was in the USA’s end, and it was just sitting there dangerously in front of Ryan Zapolski and the American net. No one on the USA team was moving toward the puck to move it as Slovakia swooped in on the opportunity. Before the Americans realized the puck was just sitting there, Slovakia had made a shot. Fortunately for Team USA, the Slovakian shot went wide. But it could have put the US behind despite their outshooting their opponent at that point in the period 11-2.
The third period got underway with an up-tempo pace. Unfortunately for Slovakia, they found themselves back in the box—this time for a bench minor of too many men on the ice. Team USA wasn’t on the power play long—just seven seconds—before Donato again put the puck behind Laco, this time assisted by Bourque and Mark Arcobello. The Americans were up 2-1 and were two for five on the power play. The key would be denying Slovakia the opportunity to tie the game again.
Twenty-two seconds after Donato’s go-ahead goal, Terry would be sent to the box for high sticking and the Americans would need to have an aggressive penalty kill to keep their lead. The United States met the challenge, but there was still almost 15 minutes remaining in the final frame.
Donato wasn’t just sitting on his laurels having gotten the two goals in the game. No, he was aggressive on defense as well. One particularly timely move was a smart takeaway with about 11;30 remaining in the period.
As the clock continued to count down, the Americans continued to increase their pressure to prevent Slovakia from getting the equalizer. With seven minutes remaining they were doing a great job of holding the Slovakians in their own end. And though the chants of “USA! USA1” had been raucous throughout the game, they became even louder, even as the Slovakian chants were now all but nonexistent.
At one point when Slovakia did get into the offensive zone, America’s Chad Billins did an impressive job of hounding Matej Paulovic along the boards while he had the puck, thus preventing the Slovakian from getting any opportunity to make a play.
Team USA hung on to take the win 2-1. They will want to work on getting more shots on net when they take on the Olympic Athlete from Russia team on Saturday night. They will also want to make simple stick-to-stick passes and the definitely cannot lose sight of the puck and who has it at any point in the game. The Russians are advantageous and tenacious and will certainly make the Americans pay for any mistake. The Russians are coming off a slaughter of the Slovenians in their 8-2 win which will have certainly increased their confidence.