There will be no miracle for the US Men’s Olympic Hockey team as they watched the dream end at the hands of the Czech Republic on Wednesday in Korea. The team was eliminated in a shootout in which they could not score in five chances.
The Americans were underdogs against the Czech Republic at +149 to win, while the Czechs were a -189 to win. They managed to push it to overtime and when no team scored, it went to a shootout. The second Czech player managed to slip a shot between the legs of US goalie Ryan Zapolski. It was all they would need as the one goal stood up.
“It’s hard to believe the way it was being played, and how hard those teams were competing, it was going to go to that,” US Coach Tony Granato said after the loss.
This was supposed to be a high-scoring affair. Las Vegas sports books had set the over/under at 4.5, but the final 3-2 score barely hit the over.
The Czechs did have the advantage of using top professional players from the Kontinental Hockey League. The NHL chose not to allow its athletes to participate this year so the US Team was a mix of college players and minor leaguers. Zapolski told ESPN the younger players were inspirational to the veterans.
“They are fearless,” he said. “They are just kids having fun. A lot of guys are 12-13 years older than them, and when you see the fun and the attitude they play with, it rubs off on a lot of us.”
Fatigue a Factor
The team was playing their second game in three days. They faced Slovakia in a must-win game to advance to the quarterfinals. They were favorites to beat Slovakia, a team they defeated in the preliminary round.
They won easily, 5-1, but may have spent too much energy on the ice and were at a disadvantage against the well rested Czech team. They appeared sluggish at times and had to fight for a tie in regulation.
“Maybe our legs weren’t there,” Zapolski said. “You could kind of see, once they got in our zone we had a difficult time getting it out.”
They had a chance to end it in regulation but were the victim of a bad break. Forward Brian O’Neill’s wrist shot beat the Czech goalie but the puck clanged off the cross bar and failed to go in the net.
“Even when I hit the bar,” he said, “I thought it was going in.”
Mixed Results. Missed Opportunities
The team entered the Olympics as a +1000 to win the gold, behind top pick Russia (+105), Canada (+450), Sweden (+450), Finland (+800) and the Czech Republic (+900).
They were trying to be the first squad to win a medal since the 2010 team won the silver in Vancouver. They also won a silver at the 2002 Games, the only two medals since the famous Miracle on Ice 1980 team defeated the Russians and won the gold.
This year’s team didn’t do themselves any favors when they lost its first game to lightly regarded Slovenia, who was a +40000 to win the gold medal. They went 1-2 in the preliminary round, but managed to advance to medal play. It all ended on Wednesday when they fell to the Czech Republic.