Team USA hockey shows its inexperience in giving away late lead, losing in OT to Slovenia

Yahoo Sports

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – You could never tell that Jordan Greenway had done something historic.

The 6-foot-6 behemoth from Boston University became the first African-American in Team USA history to score an Olympic goal on Wednesday. It should have been the game-winning goal. It turned out to be one goal too little.

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The Americans fizzled here against Slovenia, allowing a game-tying tally with less than two minutes to play, and then allowing a sudden-death goal only 38 seconds into overtime. Final: 3-2. The night’s last on-ice scene was U.S. goalie Ryan Zapolski in a heap, the puck behind him in the net. Brutal.

So Greenway stood in front of reporters and spoke softly in resignation.

“Exciting to get my first one,” he said without a trace of excitement. “Just rather get the win tonight.”

Youthful enthusiasm had drowned in youthful disappointment. It may yet be the story of this non-NHL team. It’s certainly the story of its first preliminary game.

“I thought we played a really good game,” Greenway said. “We just didn’t find a way to finish it.”

He’s right. The Americans played terrifically well for two periods, shutting down Slovenia and looking like a team that was impervious to first-night jitters. Then in the third, Slovenia brought all of its energy and its ammo and the U.S. eventually cratered.

“We got a little on our heels, probably let off the gas a little bit,” said head coach Tony Granato.

United States forward Jordan Greenway, right, looks away after Slovenia scored its second goal on Wednesday in both teams’ Olympic hockey opener in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Reuters)
United States forward Jordan Greenway, right, looks away after Slovenia scored its second goal on Wednesday in both teams’ Olympic hockey opener in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Reuters)

It’s understandable. Slovenia’s players have far more familiarity with each other and with this format than the U.S. does. The Americans are still getting used to everything, and everyone. They were cobbled together by the late Jim Johannson within a matter of months after the NHL backed out of these Games. Then there’s the excitement of the first Olympic matchup, the long day until faceoff at 9 p.m. local time.

“I thought the energy in the third wasn’t great,” Granato allowed. “It might have been we had spent so much; 24 guys playing their first Olympic game. The hype, the wait – it was a long day. You use a lot of energy. Could have been a little fatigue that set in mentally because of the way the day was. But no excuses.”

Get ready for a roller coaster in this tournament. The U.S. has a lot of talent and a lot of spirit. It is thrilled to be here and it shows, and the players are happy to have each other and that shows. But when you do a mash-up of such a cross-section of players and try to coach them up in such a short time for a short tournament, you get peaks and valleys within peaks and valleys. The Americans looked like veterans and amateurs all in the same third period.

Now it’s up to Granato to both calm the waters and rev the engines.

“If you drag this one out and think about it for 36 hours,” he said, “you’re not going to be ready for the next one.”

Would the NHL players have won this game? It shouldn’t matter. There’s a lot to like about this situation and this team. There’s a lot to cheer for, including a 6-6 20-year-old who shot out of the penalty box in the second period and scored a goal that will be remembered for generations.

To watch this team is to want to get to know it better. Somewhere there’s a kid in America who caught a few minutes of this game before school, and took the memory of that around all day. Maybe he or she comes home and asks mom or dad, “When do they play again?”

So yeah, the end wasn’t great. But it’s still a beginning.

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