Team USA defeated Canada 4-2 in their Beijing Olympic men's ice hockey preliminary round showdown on Saturday, outskating their archrivals and preying on Canadian mistakes.
Captain Andy Miele had a goal and an assist, while goalie Strauss Mann made 35 saves for the U.S. (2-0-0), which took over first place in Group A ahead of Canada (1-1-0). The last win for Team USA over Canada in men's Olympic hockey was on Feb. 21, 2010, at the Vancouver Winter Games.
It was a statement win for the Americans. While Canada brought a veteran-laden team to Beijing -- their captain, Eric Staal, is a 17-year NHL veteran -- the U.S. roster comprises primarily NCAA players. Their moments of inexperience were overshadowed by their speed and tenacious forechecking against Canada.
"We didn't back down from their physical play,'' Miele said. "I love the way our team responded. I'm so proud of this group. We took a beating. They kept on going forward, we kept on coming back at them and got the outcome that we deserved."
Canada struck first just 1:24 into the game. After U.S. forward Ben Meyers turned the puck over at center ice, Canada's Josh Ho-Sang sent a pass across the attacking zone to forward Mat Robinson. He sent a long-distance shot from the wing that goalie Strauss Mann misplayed, not getting his stick down on the ice to block it, and Canada had the early 1-0 lead.
Rather than getting down, the U.S. struck back quickly thanks to two of the professional veterans on the team. Just 1:10 later, Miele took a terrific touch pass from Brian O'Neill to break in on a 2-on-1. Defenseman Alex Grant slid down to block a potential pass to U.S. forward Kenny Agostino, but Miele kept the puck and deposited a backhand shot over goalie Eddie Pasquale, who had dropped to the ice too early.
The U.S. took the lead with 1:16 left in the first period. Defenseman Jake Sanderson, who arrived late to the Olympics after being in the COVID-19 protocol, skated the puck deep into the Canadian zone. His pass was blocked by Canada right to Sean Farrell, who had five points in the Americans' win over China. He passed the puck to Meyers for a goal and a 2-1 advantage heading into the second period.
The Americans made it 3-1 just 2:37 into the second by using their forecheck to force Pasquale into a turnover. Forward Nathan Smith poked the puck away from the goalie to Nick Shore behind the net. His pass found Brendan Brisson in front, and the Vegas Golden Knights prospect caught Pasquale way out of position for an easy goal -- his second of the Olympics.
"The kids can play, I think it's safe to say,'' Agostino said. "It's clear we've got a lot of speed and a lot of talent, but I think this was a man's game tonight: Canada-U.S.A., there's no real explanation needed. I think all of them stepped up and played like men out there."
The U.S. earned the first power play of the game, but it was Canada that ended up on the scoreboard. Center Matty Beniers, playing the point, made an ineffective pinch to try to keep the puck in the attacking zone. Instead, Canada sprung out on a 2-on-1 break and Corban Knight, a former NHL journeyman, scored a shorthanded goal to cut the lead to 3-2 with 5:47 left in the period.
Team USA scored a critical insurance goal 6:13 into the third period, on a play that Mann started with a poke check. Miele collected the puck and dumped it into the Canadian zone. Then came two Canadian miscues: Defenseman Maxim Noreau misplayed the puck and turned it over to Miele, and then Pasquale let a wobbly blast from Agostino squeak through for the 4-2 lead.
"I fought the puck pretty much all night," Pasquale said. "I gave up two weak ones. If I make those two saves, we're 2-2 going into overtime."
The U.S. preserved that lead through Canada's 5-on-3 power play late in the third period, when Mann made seven saves and got help from his goal post on one Canadian chance -- one of four posts they hit in the game.
The Americans close out the preliminary round Sunday against Germany. The Canadians play host China.