SLOVENIA STUNS U. S. IN HOCKEY OPENER
Americans waste 2- 0 lead in surprising OT defeat
GANGNEUNG, South Korea — U. S. men’s hockey coach Tony Granato’s mission now is to prevent the devastation of one loss from creating another.
He made that clear after Slovenia stunned the United States by coming from behind to win 3- 2 on a goal 38 seconds into overtime by former Red Wings player Jan Mursak. It was Mursak who tied the score with 1: 37 left in regulation.
‘‘[ If ] you drag this out and think about it for the next 36 hours, we’re not going to be ready to play in a couple of days,’’ Granato said. ‘‘ This one’s over and done with. And we’ve got to start figuring out how to get the energy we need to be ready for the next game.’’
This was the kind of loss that gnaws at players and coaches. The United States seemed to be in control, holding a 2- 0 lead heading into the third period. Granato called the first 40 minutes ‘‘ great hockey.’’
Then, inexplicably, the United States allowed Slovenia to become dangerous in the offensive zone.
‘‘ I thought our energy in the third wasn’t great,’’ Granato said. ‘‘ Twenty- four guys playing their first Olympic game — the hype, the long day — you use a lot of energy. It could’ve been a little fatigue set in mentally because of the way that the day was. But no excuses. They were the better team in the third.’’
The U. S. players echoed Granato’s sentiments. They liked how they played for two- thirds of the game and hated how they performed in the third period.
‘‘ We started turning the puck over in our zone, and they were getting chances that led to momentum for them,’’ U. S. goalie Ryan Zapolski said.
After Slovenia scored its first goal at 5: 49 of the third, ‘‘ We were kind of on our heels,’’ Zapolski said.
‘‘ I thought we could have been a little more selfish in getting pucks to the net and shooting a little bit more,’’ said the United States’ Brian O’Neill, who scored a goal and assisted on a goal by Jordan Greenway.
The United States has only 36 hours to scrub away its problems before facing Slovakia on Friday. The Slovaks upset Russia on Wednesday.
Slovenia qualified for the Olympics for the first time in 2014 and showed then that it could be competitive, finishing seventh. But this time Slovenia did it without Kings star Anze Kopitar, its best player.
‘‘ When we were younger, we never thought we were going to play in the Olympic Games,’’ Mursak said. ‘‘ There is really no pressure on us, no big expectations.’’
But there is considerable pressure now on the United States. All eyes will be on the players to see how they respond to the major loss.
‘‘ Tournaments are about getting better each and every game and learning from what happened,’’ Granato said. ‘‘ I think it’s more the mindset of realizing it’s going to take 60 minutes to close out any team in a tournament like this.’’
Jan Mursak of Slovenia ( upper right) celebrates after scoring the winning goal in overtime against the United States in an Olympic hockey opener in Gangneung, South Korea. U. S. coach Tony Granato ( inset) was unhappy with the third period.
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