Team USA men's hockey is knocked out of Olympics by Slovakia in a penalty shootout
The U.S. men's hockey team lost in crushing fashion on Wednesday, falling in a penalty shot shootout. Team USA had been one minute away from advancing to the Olympic semifinals — but Slovakia came back to force overtime in the final minute of regulation.
"It's pretty hard to describe right now," U.S. captain Andy Miele said of the loss, thinking of the chances his young team had to continue its run at the Beijing Olympics.
The U.S. team, which like other countries lacks NHL stars, is the youngest squad the U.S. has sent to the Olympics in decades, with an average age around 25. All of its members are current or former college players — more than half are now in college.
But the U.S. quickly found a successful rhythm, going undefeated in group play (including a win over Canada) and arriving at the playoff stage as the No. 1 seed. It was all thanks to their fluid team play. Consider this Olympics writeup of their early equalizer in Wednesday's back-and-forth game:
"Great work by Kenny Agostino up the boards on the right, plays it back for Steven Kampfer. A slick centering pass for Matty Beniers, who directs the puck further on to his left.
"It finds Nick Abruzzese who applies the final touch with a quick stick deke to put it through the goalie's five-hole. A majestic team goal, great play."
In the quarterfinals, the U.S. was trying to hang on for the win after taking the lead in the second period off a goal by Sam Hentges — a standout at St. Cloud State University.
But Slovakia pulled goalie Patrik Rybar with around 1:30 left in the game — and they capitalized with the tying goal about 45 seconds later, forcing a frenzied but scoreless overtime and then the shootout.
The U.S. called on goalie Strauss Mann to make a variety of saves — and time after time, he delivered. In the second period alone, he saved 13 of 13 shots on goal.
Through the first three rounds of the shootout, neither Mann nor Rybar blinked, holding the tally at 0-0. But then Peter Cehlarik, formerly of the Boston Bruins, got the puck past Mann in the fourth round. Miele took the last shot for the U.S. but was unable to score.
"It's unfortunate it's over," Miele said. "I enjoyed my time. Just blessed to be here, blessed to have had this opportunity and to lead that team; they're a great group and just try to enjoy the time we have left together here."
The game was exceptional, said Slovakia's Marek Hrivik, whose late goal forced overtime.
"It was a great game. It was probably one of the best ones I've played so far in my career," Hrivik said. "It was intense, it was a battle, we know how good a team they have, how hard they fight out there on the ice, so we tried to match that and we just tried to grind it out and it worked."
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