The United States men’s hockey team finished group play with a perfect 3-0 record, but the run of perfection came to a screeching halt early Wednesday morning. Slovakia, perhaps the most captivating story of the men’s tournament thus far, took down the U.S. by a score of 3-2 in the shootout to advance to the men’s semifinals at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Slovakia trailed the Americans 2-1 in the final minute of the game, but with just 43.7 seconds remaining in regulation, Slovak forward Marek Hrivik scored with his team’s net empty to tie the game and ultimately force overtime.
Despite both the U.S. and Slovakia managing to generate numerous quality scoring chances, neither team was able to score in the highly-eventful 10-minute OT period. Goals were just as hard to come by in the shootout, but when a puck finally did hit the back of the net, it came off the stick of Slovakia’s Peter Cehlarik.
Slovakia goaltender Patrik Rybar didn’t allow a single goal in the shootout, stopping the Americans on all five of their attempts. Rybar finished the tilt with 33 saves on 35 U.S. shots.
Strangely, Matty Beniers, who was outstanding for the Americans throughout overtime, never received a chance in the shootout.
The U.S. actually got off to a solid start against the Slovaks, outshooting them 5-0 in the early portion of the opening stanza. But not long after the period’s midway point, Slovakian sensation Juraj Slafkovsky netted his tournament-leading fifth goal to break the ice. The 17-year-old was left completely unguarded in the slot and fired a laser past U.S. netminder Strauss Mann to give his squad the early advantage. Slafkovsky may be the youngest player of the tournament, but he’s already looking like a budding star.
The Americans eventually responded with a goal of their own with just 45 seconds remaining in the first period. Nick Abruzzese potted his first marker of the tournament thanks to some gorgeous puck movement from Kenny Agostino, Steven Kampfer and Beniers on the rush. Better late in the period than never.
Despite the clear momentum shift at the end of the game’s first 20 minutes, the middle period was far from ideal for the Americans. Slovakia outshot them 13-6 in the second frame and generated several quality scoring chances. Mann, however, was able to keep all of their opportunities out of the net. The Greenwich, Connecticut native was stellar all game long, stopping 24 of the 36 shots fired in his direction.
While the Slovaks had the clear advantage in the shots department during the middle stanza, Sam Hentges managed to score his first goal of the tournament just before the game’s midway, and it gave the U.S. the 2-1 lead. It wound up being the last goal the Americans would score at the 2022 Games.
Slovakia was not considered a favorite to advance to the semifinals in the men’s tournament by any means, but with NHL players not taking part in the Olympics, the playing field was evened out significantly due to the high presence of amateur players. The Slovaks are suddenly becoming the top underdog story of the tournament.
The Slovaks will play their semifinal game Thursday night at 11:10 p.m. ET. Their opponent for the semifinals has yet to be determined.
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