BEIJING (AFP) – Slovakia eliminated the United States (USA) in the Beijing Olympic ice hockey quarterfinals yesterday, stunning the Americans with a tying goal in the final minute of regulation before winning 3-2 in a shootout.
Deprived of its National Hockey League (NHL) stars by the pandemic, the USA squad of relative unknowns had inspired comparisons to the overachieving 1980 gold-medal winning ‘Miracle on Ice’ team as they went 3-0 in group play.
They were 44 seconds from clinching a spot in the Beijing semifinals when Slovakia’s captain Marek Hrivik slotted home to tie it 2-2 and send the game into overtime.
Slovakia scored once in the penalty shootout, leaving USA captain Andy Miele with one last shot, but his effort was smothered by goalie Patrik Rybar.
The USA’s collection of ageing veterans and NHL-bound teenagers had played with surprising cohesion despite practising only a few times together before the Games.
“These guys will have a great future ahead of them and they’ll be back here representing USA before you know it,” veteran former NHL defencemen Steven Kampfer said of his younger teammates.
“But this one’s going to sting for a little bit for all of us.”
The NHL’s decision to keep its players away from Beijing due to Covid had a particular impact on the USA and Canada, which both ended up with hastily assembled teams to face more experienced European rosters.
The Americans – the youngest squad in Beijing – used their speed and energy to establish themselves as potential contenders but had their hands full with the scrappy Slovaks.