U.S. men’s hockey coach Granato must get team focused on next game
Americans led by two goals until late
GANGNEUNG, South Korea – U.S. men’s hockey coach Tony Granato’s mission now is to prevent the devastation of one loss creating another.
He made that clear after Slovenia stunned the Americans by coming from behind to win 3-2 on a goal 38 seconds into overtime by former Detroit 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 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 Americans seemed to be in control, holding a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. Granato called the Americans’ first 40 minutes “great hockey.”
Then, inexplicably, they allowed Slovenia to become dangerous in the offensive zone.
“I thought our energy in the third wasn’t great,” Granato said. “Twentyfour 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.”
No need to call out the Americans, because they were doing it themselves.
They liked how they played for twothirds 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.
Zapolski said after Slovenia scored its first goal at 5:49 of the third “we were kind of on our heels.”
You could feel the sag in the USA’s play.
“I thought we could have been a little more selfish in getting pucks to the net and shooting a little bit more,” said the USA’s Brian O’Neill, who scored once and assisted on Jordan Greenway’s goal.
The Americans have 36 hours to scrub away their problems before facing Slovakia on Friday. The Slovaks upset Russia on Wednesday as well.
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 Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar, the country’s best player.
“When we were younger, we never thought we were going to play in the Olympic Games,” Mursak said. “There is no really pressure on us, no big expectations.”
But there is considerable pressure now on the Americans. When you are at the Olympics, you are on the big stage. All eyes will be on them 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 more the mind-set of realizing it’s going to take 60 minutes to close out any team in a tournament like this.”
Teammates mob Jan Mursak after he scored the overtime goal that gave Slovenia the victory against Team USA. JAMES LANG/USA TODAY SPORTS