Team USA Men’s Hockey made a seven goal statement Thursday in Sochi. In an Olympic tournament that boasts the accomplishments and talents of Team Canada, the 2010 Vancouver Gold Medal winners, and the home team Russia, the USA men’s team asserted its dominance over a lackluster Slovakian team.
Team USA, the silver medal winners in Vancouver, came into Sochi ready to win gold for the first time since the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, but haven’t won a men’s hockey medal on European soil since 1956.
A great deal of emphasis was placed on how well USA players would handle the larger ice in Sochi. Europeans play on an ice sheet 200 feet long by 100 feet across as opposed to standard NHL ice at 200 feet long by 85 feet across.
“The first period was adjusting,” said Blues captain and Team USA center David Backes, “to the big ice for us.”
Backes said when the Slovaks scored their first goal within the first minute of the second period; it provided a wake-up call for Team USA. That wake-up call then produced six unanswered goals for the USA eventually chase Slovakia’s Jaroslav Halak from between the pipes.
“It was impressive,” Backes continued, “It was great to see it wasn’t one line that was doing it every time. It was different guys and good, balanced scoring.”
All four lines that Team USA rolled out Thursday scored at least one goal, but no line was more important than the fourth line comprised of Max Pacioretty, St. Louis native and CBC graduate Paul Stastny and Blues forward TJ Oshie. Stastny’s scored two goals in the game while Oshie recorded an assist on both of those goals and Pacioretty assisted on one. Team USA head coach Dan Byslma said that despite the fact that the line was labeled as the fourth, they faced off against Slovakia’s top players.
“We talked going into the game that line could be our best line,” Byslma said, “And it turned out to be that.”
With six goals in the second, Team USA tied an American record with most goals scored in one period.
“We were very patient with the puck tonight,” Oshie said, “Which is a huge part of playing on the big ice. There’s enough room on the ice where you can step back a little bit and you can slow the game down.”
Team USA will face their biggest test Saturday in Sochi as they take on the home team Russians, who won their first group game Thursday against Slovenia 5 to 2. Winning the gold medal on home soil would mean a great deal to the Russians who haven’t won Olympic gold since the 1988 games in Calgary.
Byslma knows how talented the Russian team is with highly skilled players like Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin. Preparing to game plan against the Russians will prove difficult because Byslma said they have to expect the unexpected.
“There are several people and players that we have to be concerned with and aware of,” said Byslma, “They’re a very talented team and may be the most talented in the tournament.
The USA-Russia game begins at 6:30 a.m. CT Saturday.
St. Louis Blues Team USA players, Kevin Shattenkirk (1), David Backes (1) and TJ Oshie (2) all recorded points in Thursday's game against Slovakia. Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak saved 20 of 25 shots until he was pulled from Slovakia's net.
St. Louis Blues center Patrik Berglund recorded a goal for Sweden in Wednesday's game against the Czech Republic. Alexander Steen also had one assist in the 4-2 Sweden victory.