International Ice Hockey Federation

Donato's pair sinks Slovaks

Donato's pair sinks Slovaks

Laco makes 29 saves but U.S. nets first win

Published 16.02.2018 16:37 GMT+10 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Donato's pair sinks Slovaks
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 16: USA's Ryan Donato #16skates to the bench after scoring a first period goal against Slovakia during preliminary round action at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Ryan Donato scored twice, including the third-period power play winner, as the U.S. edged Slovakia 2-1 on Friday for its first victory of the 2018 Olympics.

In this tight affair, the U.S. rebounded to secure an important three points in Group B after blowing a 2-0 lead and falling 3-2 in overtime to underdog Slovenia in their opener. The Slovaks failed to sustain the momentum they created in their 3-2 comeback win over the favored Olympic Athletes from Russia. The Americans will face the OAR team on Saturday.

"Tonight we came out, tried to play, kept that out of our minds," said U.S. defenceman James Wisniewski about bouncing back from the opening loss. "Right now we're happy with the three points and we'll look forward to tomorrow."

Jan Laco, named Best Goalie at the 2012 Worlds en route to silver, gave Slovakia a chance with 29 saves. Ryan Zapolski made his second straight start for the U.S. and had 21 saves.

About facing the OAR team next, Zapolski said: "I'm used to playing the Russians all the time in the KHL so it's not going to be weird for me. I don't think anybody is going to be overtaken by the moment. We're doing the same as we've done our whole lives."

Andrej Kudrna replied for the Slovaks.

"We played solid 5-on-5, but we took too many penalties and that gave them two power play goals that won them the game," said Slovakia's Ladislav Nagy. "If we played 5-on-5, it would have been a solid game."

The Americans, seeking their first medal since silver in Vancouver in 2010 and first gold since Lake Placid in 1980, took more than six minutes to register their first shot on goal. But it took only 18 seconds for them to capitalize on their first man advantage. On the rush, Troy Terry beautifully drew two Slovak defenders to him and then sent the puck back to Donato, who whizzed it past Laco at 7:10.

Donato, a 21-year-old college forward, plays for his father Ted, the Harvard head coach, who appeared at the 1992 Olympics and played three Worlds in addition to 796 NHL games.

Donato said he got advice from his dad: "When I talked to him on the phone, he said: ‘Don’t shoot so high anymore. Don’t shoot for the top shelf! Shoot low blocker, glove. At first when I got the puck, I immediately thought: ‘Blocker!’ It went in, so it was definitely a good feeling."

Just 25 seconds later, the Slovaks tied it up. Kudrna used a sneaky touch to deflect captain Tomas Surovy’s backhanded pass through Zapolski. Kudrna (Sparta Praha), an Olympic rookie winger at 29, made his IIHF World Championship debut last year with one goal.

Laco was alert to foil Bobby Butler with his right arm on a partial breakaway with under three minutes left in the opening stanza, and Terry when he dipsy-doodled to the net shortly afterwards. Terry, a University of Denver star who led the 2017 U.S. World Junior team to gold with his shootout skills, was a threat all game long.

In the second period, the Americans dominated possession, peppering Laco with shots, but failing to convert. The Slovaks had a good chance when Lukas Cingel jumped in and forced Zapolski to make a quick left pad save. Defenceman Michal Cajkovsky, the only KHLer on Slovakia, was shaken up when he blocked a Wisniewski one-timer on the power play.

Caught with too men on the ice early in the third, the Slovaks paid the price. Chris Bourque found Donato down low, and he pivoted and slipped the puck between Laco's pads at 2:51.

"That was a goal-scorer’s goal," said Terry. "He spun, got around the stick and tucked it five-hole. It was a great play."

The Slovaks had a chance to strike back when Terry went off for high-sticking defenceman Tomas Starosta, but they couldn't generate anything. Pulling Laco in the final minute was too little, too late.

The Americans made one roster change from the Slovenia loss, subbing forward Chad Kolarik (Adler Mannheim) in for Jim Slater (HC Fribourg-Gotteron).

Looking ahead to Slovakia's next game versus Slovenia, Nagy said: "Slovenia has an unbelievable team. They beat the USA, they play really good defensively. It's going to be a hard game again, but we're going to be ready for it."

This was the first 2018 Olympic game pitting a pair of former NHL head coaches against each other. The U.S.’s Tony Granato, who competed in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary for the seventh-place American squad, helmed the Colorado Avalanche in 2002-03, 2003-04, and 2008-09. Slovakia’s Craig Ramsay, the 1984-85 Selke Trophy winner with the Buffalo Sabres, led the Sabres in 1986-87, the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000-01, and the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-11. Both also have extensive experience as NHL assistant coaches.

It was just the fourth all-time Olympic encounter between the U.S. and Slovakia. They tied 3-3 in 1994, Slovakia won 2-1 in 2006, and the Americans won 7-1 in 2014.

 

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