GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — There were smiles, laughs and enthusiastic goal celebrations. It seems the Americans have found their missing energy.
At practice, anyway.
A day after blowing a two-goal, third-period lead and losing to Slovenia in overtime to open Olympic play, the United States was back at practice feeling upbeat and confident. The Americans will face Slovakia on Friday.
“We’re excited,” alternate captain Noah Welch said. “For 40 minutes, we proved that we’re a pretty dangerous team. Had a great video session today. Coaches did a good job of pointing out what we need to be better at, and then the team came out and had probably our best, most upbeat, quick-paced practice that we’ve had since we’ve been here.”
U.S. players shook off the stunning 3-2 defeat so quickly it was a whiplash of emotions in just over 12 hours. It certainly helps that the Olympic format means no team gets eliminated after pool play, though it doesn’t hurt that the U.S. dominated play for the first two periods against Slovenia before the mix of sitting on the lead and running out of gas proved costly. Coach Tony Granato chalked it up to some mental fatigue.
That can’t happen against Slovakia, which upset the favored Russians in regulation across town. “Playing a full 60 minutes” is about as lame of a hockey cliche that exists, but for the U.S. team it’s a mantra now after how well it played for 40 minutes before letting the game slip away.
“We have to refresh ourselves and recharge ourselves to be able to try to play that way for 60 minutes,” Granato said. “We skate. We’ve got four lines that can play. We don’t have to overplay anybody. If we can sustain the energy that we played with the first two periods, that would be what would help us be successful.”
Easier said than done against a Slovakia team that wore down the talented Russians and shut out the U.S. at the pre-Olympic Deutschland Cup in November. The biggest challenge for the U.S. then, now and potentially moving forward, is cashing on its offensive chances.
“We’ve got to shoot more,” Matt Gilroy said after the U.S. scored just twice on 36 shots against Slovenia. “We’ve got to get more bodies to the net. Every goaltender’s pretty good here and a lot of guys will battle in front, but we’ve got to sacrifice and get to the net.”
Feeling good about how they tilted the ice for two periods, the Americans need to avoid a repeat of how they went into a shell in the third period and abandoned the aggressive approach that had been working so well.
“If you try to play safe, you’re dead. Safe is dead in this tournament,” Welch said. “When we’re up, what’s our mentality going to be? And it can’t be to sit back. It’s to play hard, play responsible but to be on the attack. That’s the only way we’re going to have success in this tournament is to use our speed and just get after teams.”
The U.S. had a need for speed and filled it with college players Troy Terry and Ryan Dontato and Swiss-based Garrett Roe, among others. Now it’s about harnessing it and not letting it run out.
“We’re a fast team,” Granato said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that (is) what you saw last night from our team. We’re not the biggest team. We’ve got a (6-foot-5 forward Jordan) Greenway and a couple other bodies that are big. We have to rely on that quickness and hound pucks and making it be hard to play against us.”
NOTES: Granato said Ryan Zapolski will start in goal versus Slovakia after allowing three goals on 25 shots against Slovenia. ... F Chad Kolarik and D Will Borgen could get into the U.S. lineup after being healthy scratches in the opener, though Granato was not displeased with anyone’s play enough to make it an easy decision of who to take out.