Upsets of Team USA, OAR mean men's tournament is truly wide open

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A recap of the Pyeongchang men’s and women’s hockey tournaments, with a focus on Team USA’s gold medal quests.

Three Stars

1. Jan Mursak, F, Slovenia

He’s the only Slovenian player with NHL experience (46 career games with the Detroit Red Wings) and my, oh my, did he come up big against Team USA on Wednesday in their Olympic opener. After the U.S. took a 2-0 lead, Mursak scored the equalizer with 1:37 remaining in the third period — and his team’s goalie pulled — then sniped the overtime winner. The Slovenians enter this tournament as significant underdogs — the country made its Olympic hockey debut in Sochi in 2014 and finished seventh — and Slovenia had the services of current Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar on that team. Looks like Slovenia has a new hockey hero.

2. Peter Ceresnak, F, Slovakia

At least the American men weren’t the only team to blow a 2-0 lead. The Olympic Athletes from Russia — a heavy favorite in this tournament — did as well, to the Slovakians. On a third-period power play, Ceresnak fired a slapshot from the left circle that proved to be the game-winner. It was a huge goal for the former New York Rangers prospect and a reminder that, in the absence of NHL players, this tournament is truly wide open.

3. Randi Heesoo Griffin, F, Korean unified women’s team

“I’m definitely not a hero,” Griffin told reporters after the game. Maybe not. Her goal against Japan took a few bounces before slowly skipping between goaltender Akane Konishi’s pads. Korea lost 4-1. But it was Korea’s first goal in the tournament after losing 8-0 in each of its first two games, and the score sent the fans in Kwandong Hockey Center into a frenzy. Not only does this team have to absorb the pressure of playing as host, but they were also used as political pawns — forced to add 12 North Korean players to the roster weeks before the tournament began. If nothing else, this goal provided a feel-good moment.

What’s up with the U.S. men’s team?

We know the U.S. is a longshot in this tournament, but Slovenia is even more so. That’s what makes the Americans’ 3-2 overtime loss to Slovenia in the opener so stunning. The U.S. blew a 2-0 lead. The Slovenians were clearly overmatched in the first period — when they only mustered three shots — as the Americans stormed to a strong start. But Team USA looked sloppy to begin the third, saw the Slovenians score the equalizer with their goalie pulled, then never had control in the overtime period. Jordan Greenway (one goal, four shots, good effort) was a bright spot for the Americans, but overall it felt like Team USA’s adrenaline fizzled. The U.S. will have to rebound quickly; its next game is on Feb. 16 against Slovakia — a team coming off a big opening win against the Russians.

What’s up with the U.S. women’s team?

Ah, it’s the main event! Actually, a preview for the main event. The Americans face Canada in group play Wednesday night (airing live at 10:10 p.m. ET) in what everyone expects to be the gold medal matchup. Both teams enter the match 2-0, with wins over Finland and the Olympic Athletes from Russia. Though the U.S. women are defending world champs, the Canadians bring a 22-game Olympic winning streak into the contest. The American women found their scoring touch in their most recent win, a 5-0 thumping of the Russians, and also exercised some creativity late in that game. They’ll need plenty of that to take down Canada.

Anything else worth watching?

The Swedish men make their Olympic debut, and besides Rasmus Dahlin (the likely No. 1 pick of the 2018 NHL draft), another Swede’s name caught my eye: Carl Klingberg, the older brother of Dallas Stars defenseman and Norris Trophy candidate John Klingberg. Last week, I asked John for a scouting report on his brother. John’s take: “[Carl] is a big, strong guy [who] can skate well. He’s pretty gritty, a power forward. He goes to the net. Nothing fancy, but he can put up some greasy goals. So he’s more like a power forward, doing a good job with the forecheck and stuff like that.”

Oh, and here is John Klingberg’s prediction for the tournament: “I think Russia is going to be the favorite, but I think Sweden has the slight favorite over Canada and the U.S. But there are always five teams that are going to fight it out. Sweden has a chance, but I for sure think Russia is the favorite.”

Speaking of siblings …

A shout-out to New Jersey Devils defenseman Mirco Mueller for calling it like it is on Twitter.

His sister, Alina, has dazzled for the Swiss women’s team, with an Olympic-leading six goals through group play. Switzerland prevailed from group B and will face the fourth-place Group A team in the quarterfinals. Mueller is just three goals shy of the single Olympic record of nine goals. Did we mention that she’s only 19 years old?

In the next 24 hours

Men’s tournament Group C: Finland vs. Germany (Feb. 14, 10:10 p.m. ET); Norway vs. Sweden (Feb. 15, 2:40 a.m. ET)
Women’s hockey Group A: Canada vs. USA (Feb. 14, 10:10 p.m. ET); Finland vs. Olympic Athletes from Russia (Feb. 15, 2:40 a.m.)
Men’s hockey group A: Czech Republic vs. Korea (Feb. 15, 7:10 a.m. ET); Canada vs. Switzerland (Feb. 15, 7:10 a.m. ET)



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