GANGNEUNG, South Korea ¡ª The 2018 United States Olympic men¡¯s hockey team will be remembered as a squad with heart but little finishing skill, and so its tournament came Wednesday afternoon to a fitting close. It forced overtime despite being outplayed all game, and it survived overtime despite playing 10 minutes of four-on-four hockey in its second game in two days.
Forced into a shootout, the Americans¡¯ fatal flaw surfaced. All five shooters failed to convert, and despite four saves from goalie Ryan Zapolski, the Czech Republic eliminated the ragtag Americans in the quarterfinals, 3-2.
They survived all Wednesday afternoon at half-full Gangneug Hockey Centre, until they could not. Their tournament ended one round shy of a near-certain semifinal rematch with the Olympic Athletes from Russia, the game they wanted most of all.
The U.S. faltered utterly in the shootout against Czech goalie Pavel Francouz, and Petr Koukal scored the only goal the Czechs needed. Chris Bourque went first for the Americans and, after a series of dekes, he buried a shot in the blocker. Ryan Donato, who led the U.S. with five goals in the tournament, including the first Wednesday, fooled Francouz but couldn¡¯t stuff the puck inside the right post. Mark Arcobello shot a wrister from close range into Francouz¡¯s pads. Troy Terry couldn¡¯t slip a backhand past. When Bobby Butler¡¯s final shot was denied, the Czechs exulted, their one goal enough.
Playing four-on-four in overtime on large Olympic ice in its second game in two days, the U.S. flagged late. But Zapolski blocked every shot that came his way, and the U.S. even generated one final chance. With 40 seconds left in overtime, Bobby Sanguinetti blasted a shot that trickled under Francouz after the goalie made the original stop, but the netminder fell on the puck before it could slip past the line.
The U.S. nearly won in regulation. With 2:42 left, Brian O¡¯Neill beat Francouz with a wrister from the slot, but the puck pinged off the crossbar. With 80 seconds remaining, Czech Vojtech Mozik took a slashing penalty, but the U.S. power play had been a special kind of mess all day, and it never generated much heat.
Early on, the pairing of Donato and Terry, two of the four college players on the roster, continued its emergence as a goal-scoring force. The team¡¯s first goal came on a pass from Terry to Donato, who sizzled a wrist shot past Francouz from the top of the left circle. It was Donato¡¯s third goal in two days, and it gave Terry five assists for the tournament, four of those in the past two days.
This goal gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead, but it would not hold. Zapolski stoned several Czech chances, effectively killing one penalty by himself. But he could not stop a rocket off the stick of Jan Kolar, off an assist from Jan Kovar. The goal tied the score at 1 ¡ª and suggested the Czechs were making up names in an effort to confuse the Americans.
For the first half of the second period, the Czech Republic manhandled the Americans. Tomas Kundratek scored on a missile from the top of the left circle, and the U.S. did not produce a shot on goal for more than 10 minutes to start the periods. The situation turned from bleak to dire when Arcobello took a tripping penalty.
Playing shorthanded, the Americans forced a turnover at the blue line, and O¡¯Neill whisked a pass ahead to Jim Slater, and suddenly a breakaway was on. Slater wristed a shot ¡ª the team¡¯s first of the period, 10 minutes, 23 seconds in ¡ª and drilled it into the back of the net. Suddenly, the U.S. had tied it at 2. The Czechs were dominating, but the Americans were surviving. They played until the end, until their flaw surfaced at the worst time.
Read more on the?PyeongChang Olympics: