BEIJING (AFP) - Slovakia stunned the United States with a tying goal in the final minute of regulation, before winning 3-2 in a shootout to eliminate the Americans in the Beijing Olympic men's ice hockey quarter-finals on Wednesday (Feb 16).
Deprived of its National Hockey League (NHL) stars by the pandemic, the US squad of relative unknowns had inspired comparisons to the overachieving 1980 gold medal-winning “Miracle on Ice” team as they went 3-0 in group play.
The Americans were 44 seconds from sending Slovakia home when captain Marek Hrivik scored to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Slovakia scored the only goal in the final penalty shoot-out.
US captain Andy Miele had one last shot but his effort was smothered by Slovak netminder Patrik Rybar.
The US’ collection of ageing veterans and NHL-bound teenagers had played with surprising cohesion despite practising only a few times together before the Games.
“These guys will have a great future ahead of them and they’ll be back here representing USA before you know it,” veteran former NHL defenceman Steven Kampfer said of his younger teammates.
“But this one’s going to sting for a little bit for all of us.”
Slovakia's big 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky, who has emerged as one of the stars of the tournament, opened the scoring midway through the first period, giving him five goals in Beijing to lead all players.
The US took back the lead early in the second and held it until Hrivik's late goal.
The pandemic-driven decision by the National Hockey League (NHL), the world's top pro league, to keep its superstars away from Beijing has deprived the Olympics of a best-on-best competition.
The NHL absence has particularly weakened the twice gold medallists US and record nine-time champions Canada.
Still, the US - the youngest squad in Beijing - won all their group games against China, Canada and Germany thanks largely to their speed on the ice, but had their hands full in a scrappy game against the opportunistic Slovaks.
“It’s the medal round and you’re going to get every team’s best,” said Miele.
“That’s a good team over there (Slovakia) and in a one-game elimination, that happens.”
Slovakia will play Finland in the semi-finals in two days after the Nordic side thumped Switzerland 5-1.
In the other half of the draw, the defending-champion Russians beat Denmark 3-1 and will meet Sweden, who stunned Canada 2-0, in the last four.