Day: February 14, 2018

Captain scores twice, Slovenes rally for OT win

By Lucas Aykroyd –

U.S. defenceman Matt Gilroy blocked Rok Ticar’s first attempt to send the puck cross-ice to Mursak, but not the second one, and the Slovenian captain beat U.S. goalie Ryan Zapolski to the stick side. It was Mursak’s second goal of the night.

“I’m happy I was able to score today and help the team, but I think the whole team showed a really good performance today,” said Mursak.

Slovenia surprised everyone at the 2014 Olympics by finishing seventh, and it looks like they’re planning to build on that history. This exciting upset was the first Slovenian win over the U.S. in Olympic history. The U.S. won 5-1 in Sochi in 2014.

Blaz Gregorc had a goal and an assist for the Slovenes, who are making their second Olympic appearance. Brian O’Neill had a goal and an assist for the Americans, and Jordan Greenway also tallied.

“They came out hard, they came up with a little more fire,” said Greenway. “They were down 2-0 going into the third and we just didn’t find a way to finish the game “

Zapolski, who leads the KHL with nine shutouts for Jokerit, lost his goaltending duel with Slovenian starter Gasper Kroselj. Shots favored the U.S. 36-25.

“We can play with them,” said Gregorc. “It was no problem. We just said that we just need to stick together and just fight until the end.”

The Kwandong Hockey Centre crowd of 3,348 oohed and ahhed frequently during its first taste of Olympic men’s hockey on Wednesday night.

It’s the first time the U.S. has assembled an Olympic roster with a majority of European-based pros. This was a battle between two veteran teams with an average age of 30.

In a manner of speaking, neither side was able to “stick” to its system early on. First, Slovenian defenceman Luka Vidmar was penalized for playing with a broken stick, and then U.S. defenceman James Wisniewski was caught getting his stick up on Jan Urbas.

During the ensuing 4-on-4, a pinching Sabahudin Kovacevic had a wide-open net during a scramble in front of the U.S. net, but defenceman Noah Welch slid on his knees to block a sure goal, and Kovacevic cursed his luck as he skated away.

For a while, it seemed that Slovenia, which has just 136 registered male players, would struggle to keep up with the quicker, more aggressive, and deeper Americans.

“The best part of the beginning of the game was we were pursuing pucks, hunting pucks, and putting the D in tough situations,” said O’Neill.

The U.S. opened the scoring with 2:16 left in the first period. Hustling along the boards past Slovenian defenders, Garrett Roe centered the puck from behind the net, and it tipped off Miha Verlic’s outstretched stick to O’Neill, who roofed it.

O’Neill, who got two assists in 22 games for the New Jersey Devils in 2015-16 and now plays for Jokerit, is no relation to the former NHL executive of the same name.

At 12:57 of the second period, Greenway made it 2-0, as he raced to the crease and banged in a puck that deflected to him off O’Neill’s skate. at the Olympics. Greenway (Boston University), a 2017 World Junior champion, is the first African-American player to represent the U.S. at the Olympics.

“It was exciting to get my first one under my belt, but it would have been much better to get a win tonight,” Greenway said.

Loud-and-proud American supporters dressed in the Stars and Stripes chanted “USA!” early in the third period, but then it was the turn of the Slovenian fans in bright green.

Gregorc, a two-time Olympian who plays for HC Hradec Kralove, cut the deficit to 2-1 at 5:49. The defenceman stepped in off the right point to whiz a wrister through traffic past Zapolski’s blocker.

Slovenia came close to equalizing with U.S. captain Brian Gionta in the box for tripping. Verlic, parked on the doorstep, banged a rebound through Zapolski’s pads just wide of the post.

The Slovenes pulled their goalie for the extra attacker with a late faceoff in the U.S. end, and it paid off. With just 1:37 left, Mursak pivoted to whack the rebound from Gregorc’s point shot past Zapolski and tie the game.

“Hats off to them,” said O’Neill. “They played really well in the third period. They did a lot of things well that we were doing well in the first two periods. They kind of turned the momentum around there when they got that first goal and they didn’t let up.”

History suggests the Slovenes have plenty of reason for optimism in Korea.

After Slovenia defeated Austria 4-0 in its qualification playoff game in Sochi, superstar centre Anze Kopitar was asked to explain how his country could do so well with such a small pool of players. “We’ve got 25 really good ones,” replied Kopitar.

The Los Angeles Kings veteran, who led the playoffs in scoring during his 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup runs, isn’t here – but he wasn’t even Slovenia’s scoring leader in 2014. That was forward Ziga Jeglic (4 points), who’s back for 2018. Kopitar was one of four players tied for second (3 points).

“Of course we can celebrate a little bit but we have a lot of games ahead of us,” Gregorc cautioned. Slovenia’s next game is Friday against the Olympic Athletes from Russia. The U.S. takes on Slovakia that day.

The U.S. last won gold in the 1980 “Miracle in Ice” in Lake Placid. However, it struggled in the four “non-NHL” Olympics after that, placing seventh in 1984 and 1988, fourth in 1992, and eighth in 1994. The Americans hope they can diverge from that pattern as they strive to honor the memory of longtime USA Hockey executive and two-time Olympian Jim Johannson, who passed away unexpectedly on 21 January.

Japan gets first OG win, Korea gets first goal

By Andy Potts –

A 4-1 victory for Japan over Korea made little difference to the outcome of Group B – but it meant a huge amount to both competing nations.

The All-Asia match-up between Korea and Japan was one of the hottest tickets in the women’s competition – and both teams had high hopes of making history. Japan, in its third Games, was out to record its first victory at this level. Korea, whose unified team had been one of the talking points of the first days of the Games, was desperate to at least record its first Olympic goal after two 8-0 losses.

It took less than four minutes for Japan to squash home dreams of victory. In that time, goals from Hanae Kubo and Shoko Ono gave the Japanese a 2-0 lead – and made this the team’s highest-scoring performance in an Olympic group stage game. The previous best attempts, in a 3-6 loss to Russia and a 2-3 reverse against Germany, both came in Sochi’s classification round.

Fittingly, the country’s leading scorer opened the account here. Haruka Toko’s pass from behind the net found Kubo out in front with plenty of time to pick her spot and beat So Jung Shin to open the scoring after 67 seconds. Korea’s problems continued, and a Japanese power play saw the lead doubled after Shiori Kioke’s shot was padded across the face of the net before dropping to a Japanese forward via Miho Shishiuchi’s stick. The angle was tight, but the net was wide open and Ono made no mistake.

Those two goals set up a victory that means an enormous amount for Japanese hockey. Aina Takeuchi summed up her feelings: “We just focused on playing 100%, every single time, every single moment. This is a win at the Olympics. It’s huge for us!”

For Korea, badly mauled in its first two games, now was the time to dig in and avert the risk of an even more painful defeat against its local rival. Shin pulled off a smart double save, blocking Kioke’s effort from the blue line before getting a pad behind Chiho Osawa’s shot from the rebound, and there was a terrific saving block from Suyeon Eom, who got her stick down to deny Toko a shot at an empty net as Japan tightened the screws.

But gradually, chances began to emerge at the other end, with Jingyu Lee looking lively. Her attempt on a breakaway was the toughest test for Japanese goalie Akane Konishi in the first period, and Korea’s finish to the opening frame gave the crowd hope that this game was still alive.

Those hopes crystallised in the middle session when the crowd finally got a home goal to cheer. Randi Heesoo Griffin wrote her name into the history books with Korea’s first ever Olympic goal, halving the deficit in the 30th minute. It may not have been the prettiest the Games has ever seen – Griffin did well to hold off Yurie Adachi and get a shot off from inside the right-hand circle, but she did not strike it cleanly and benefited from a deflection off the inside of Konishi’s pad. But, for the Korean fans in the Kwandong Hockey Centre, it was a moment to treasure. The volume around the arena cranked up several notches, the pale blue outline of the Korean peninsular fluttered from a flag waved proudly by every hand; the excitement even momentarily ruffled the impeccable timing of the famous North Korean cheerleaders.

But Griffin was not ready to turned into a hero. “I’m definitely not a hero,” she smiled after the game. “It was a crappy shot that took a couple of bounces and went into the net.

“The important thing is that our team put up a lot of offence. There were lots of shots with a chance to get to the net and I got lucky with mine.”

Seconds later, the noise threatened to go to 11 as Korea went close to tying the scores. Yoonjung Park came marauding out of defence and showed great skills with a dangle to open up the Japanese rearguard. Yunjung Choi fired in a dangerous shot, but Konishi was up to the task and Japan held onto its lead.

Despite Korea’s little flurry, the balance of play still favoured Japan. The early stages of the third period saw Kubo go close again of Ukita’s feed, and Toko testing Shin from point blank range. Each Korean save set the noise going again, and opportunities at the other end – though few and far between – threatened to tip the crowd into delirium.

In the end, though, Japan made the game safe with eight minutes left to play when another power play gave Koike the chance to shoot home from the blue line. Korea pulled its goalie with just over two minutes to play, but was punished when Ukita forced a turnover and went on to score in the empty net. Her second of the Games took Japan to four for the night, and its highest-scoring show in Olympic action.

“I think that third goal was really big,” said Akano Hosoyamada. “This is a historical event. More younger generations are going to see this and want to be part of the program and part of an amazing feat on the Olympic stage.”

For Korea, though, there was a sense of pride despite the defeat. The home crowd was in no mood to let its heroes go, staying on after the hooter to cheer Sarah Murray’s team off the ice amid a shower of plush toys. The unified team may have been defeated on the ice, but it clearly won its place in the hearts of the sporting public of PyeongChang.

Both nations now go to the classification round, where they will be joined by the beaten quarter-finalists in a play-out to determine places 5-8 in this year’s tournament.

Schelling, Muller hot again

By Lucas Akroyd –

Schelling, the 2014 Olympic MVP, surpassed Canada’s Kim St-Pierre as the all-time wins leader with the ninth of her career. The Swiss have won three straight games in Korea.

Of her record, Schelling said: “I don’t pay attention to it at all. I’m not here to break any records or anything. I’m just here to be the best goalie I can be for the Swiss team and make history with the team.”

Alina Muller scored her Olympic-leading sixth goal and added an assist to help ensure Switzerland will face the fourth-place Group A team in Saturday’s quarter-finals – either Finland or the Olympic Athletes from Russia. After suffering its first loss, Sweden will battle the winner of the Finland-OAR game in the other quarter-final.

Muller, 19, is now three goals away from the single-Olympics goal record of nine set in 2010 by Canada’s Meghan Agosta and Switzerland’s Stephanie Marty.

Phoebe Staenz got the third-period winner, plus an assist, while blueliner Christine Meier had two helpers. For Sweden, Anna Borgqvist had the lone goal.

“I think there’s an advantage coming from Group B,” Staenz said. “In Sochi we lost all the group games, won the most important game and got into the semis and the bronze medal game. Two wins got us a medal, and now we have three wins already. It’s huge for our confidence, we know we can do it. We know we can win and there’s nothing to worry about, rather than going into a huge game without winning anything.”

It was the first time Switzerland and Sweden have faced each other in Olympic competition since the dramatic 4-3 Swiss victory on 20 February, 2014 in Sochi. That gave Switzerland its first Olympic hockey medal since the Swiss men got bronze in 1928 and 1948.

In front of 3,545 spectators at the Kwandong Hockey Centre, Switzerland outshot Sweden 47-34. It was a physical, penalty-filled affair in which every goal came on the power play.

“We need to work on our defence,” said Borgqvist. “We also have to be better when we’re going to score. I think we are too easy when we go into the zone. We don’t shoot enough, we don’t crash the net. But I know we have enough to beat either the Russians or the Finns.”

During a scoreless first period, both Schelling and Swedish starter Sara Grahn looked sharp. Schelling had to be alert to foil Sabina Kuller’s shot off the rush and close-in rebound attempt. After Muller slipped past fellow teen and Swedish defender Maja Nylen Persson, Grahn made a great glove save.

Staenz was shaken up after taking a Muller slapper off the inside of her knee during Switzerland’s first power play, but kept going.

In the second period, the Swiss dialed up the pressure, hemming Sweden in for long stretches. Staenz kept battling, putting the puck off the post on a shorthanded rush and drawing a minor on the same sequence after Lisa Johansson upended her.

On the ensuing power play, Muller finally broke the deadlock at 13:51 with a devastating one-timer from the bottom of the faceoff circle, set up slyly by Meier.

In the final minute of the second period, Grahn kept Sweden in it when she stoned Lara Stalder on a shorthanded breakaway.

The Swiss continued to sacrifice their bodies in the third period. On the penalty kill, Stalder was shaken up along the boards in a heavy collision with Swedish forward Hanna Olsson’s posterior.

The pain increased moments later when Borgqvist went to the front of the net to tip Olsson’s feed high past the Swiss goalie at 7:45.

But the Swiss struck back less than four minutes later. They took a 2-1 lead on the power play when Meier skimmed a perfect pass to Staenz on the doorstep and she tipped it into the open side.

“It was important,” said Staenz. “We had quite a few power plays. Every now and then the shot came through there and I couldn’t get my stick on it. And then finally I just told myself: ‘It’s going to come there, you have to be ready for it.’ And finally I was!”

And that was all it took. Sweden pulled Grahn for the extra attacker with just over a minute left, but to no avail.

“When I scored I felt we had a good chance to beat them, but they’re a good team and when they scored on that PP it was tough for us,” said Borgqvist. “But we’re a good team too, we kept fighting and we were so close to making it 2-2.”

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