Slove­nia stuns US 3-2 in over­time opener

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By Stephen Whyno

Five prac­tices were sup­posed to pre­pare the Amer­i­cans for this, and they knew at the sec­ond in­ter­mis­sion Slove­nia was go­ing to come out punch­ing.

The prepa­ra­tion and the knowl­edge were not enough to fend off the fa­tigue as the United States blew a two-goal lead and lost a 3-2 stun­ner in over­time Wed­nes­day night in the Olympic opener for both teams. Slove­nia cap­tain Jan Mur­sak scored the ty­ing goal with 1:37 left in reg­u­la­tion and the win­ner 38 sec­onds into over­time.

Long be­fore that, the U.S. started let­ting the game slip away with mis­takes all over the ice.

“We started turn­ing the puck over in our zone and they were get­ting chances and that led to some mo­men­tum for them,” said goal­tender Ryan Zapol­ski, who al­lowed three goals on 25 shots. “We can’t give up those chances that we were giv­ing up out of noth­ing there in the third. That re­ally kills your mo­men­tum. And they scored a goal off one of them and from that point we were kind of on our heels.”

For­mer Al­bany Devils cen­ter Brian O’Neill and Jor­dan Green­way, who be­came the first AfricanAmer­i­can hockey player for the U.S. at an Olympics, scored to build the 2-0 lead in a dom­i­nant show­ing, and the shots were 24-12 af­ter two pe­ri­ods. Coach Tony Granato pointed out that Slove­nia prob­a­bly should have been the more tired team from play­ing so much in its de­fen­sive zone, but there was none of that from a group that has only one player — Mur­sak — with NHL ex­pe­ri­ence.

In the game be­cause of goalie Gasper Kroselj, who stopped 34 of 36 shots, Slove­nia came to life when Jan Ur­bas scored 5:37 into the third pe­riod. With fans chant­ing “SLO-VE-NI-A,” the peren­nial un­der­dogs started pour­ing it on.

“We out­skated them in the third, es­pe­cially, and had more en­ergy,” said Mur­sak, who spent time with the Detroit Red Wings. “Af­ter we scored that first goal, I think we re­ally got that ex­tra en­ergy and the feel­ing that can score some more.”

Af­ter flash­ing the break­neck speed of for­mer Adiron­dack Phan­toms for­ward Gar­rett Roe on O’Neill’s goal and the quick re­ac­tion of Green­way on his re­bound tally, the U.S. sud­denly looked gassed. Granato won­dered if 21 play­ers dress­ing in their first Olympic game com­bined with the hype and long day be­fore a late start took a toll on his team, which hadn’t played to­gether much.

“Our en­ergy in the third wasn’t great,” Granato said. “It could’ve been a lit­tle fa­tigue just set in men­tally be­cause of the way that the day was. But no ex­cuses . ... They were the bet­ter team in the third and it was good enough for them to get the win.

The U.S. at least picked up a point by get­ting to over­time, while the Rus­sians lost 3-2 in reg­u­la­tion to Slo­vakia across town at Gangne­ung Hockey Cen­tre. Af­ter each team’s first game, Slo­vakia is atop Group B, fol­lowed by Slove­nia, the U.S. and the Rus­sians.

No one ex­pected this kind of show­ing from Slove­nia, which looked over­matched in the first two pe­ri­ods and is mostly known for hav­ing a star in Los An­ge­les Kings cap­tain Anze Ko­pi­tar. There was no Ko­pi­tar — this is the first Olympics since 1994 with­out NHL play­ers — but still the same pluck and no-quit at­ti­tude that helped the Slove­ni­ans beat ri­val Slo­vakia in Sochi for one of the big­gest vic­to­ries in na­tional his­tory.

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