Winter Olympics: Speedy collegian Donato's brace lifts USA over Slovakia

Ryan Donato (right) scored two power-play goals, keeping the Americans in contention for a bye into the quarter-finals after squandering a late lead in a 3-2 loss to Slovenia. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

GANGNEUNG (AFP) - Ryan Donato scored two power-play goals, leading a surge by speedy college players, and the United States bounced back from an opening loss to edge Slovakia 2-1 Friday in the Pyeongchang Olympics ice hockey event.

The 21-year-old Harvard University forward, whose father Ted was a 1992 Olympian, kept the Americans in contention for a bye into the quarter-finals after squandering a late lead in a 3-2 loss Wednesday to Slovenia.

"Getting a couple of goals felt good. It's a dream come true and scoring definitely helps," Donato said. "It's a whirlwind experience."

US college players have three of four US Olympic goals and four of them on the roster are having an impact.

"They are a large part of this," said US captain Brian Gionta, who played against Donato's dad. "Extremely composed. Ton of talent. These young kids are doing a great job of inserting themselves into this. It's a big stage and they're doing a great job."

The US squad concludes group play with a Saturday night showdown against the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

"I dreamed about playing against these guys growing up," Donato said. "We're going to have to stay focused and not get caught up in who we're playing."

Donato, a second-round 2014 NHL Draft pick of the Boston Bruins, opened the scoring from the high slot 7:10 into the game but the Slovakians answered only 25 seconds later, Andrej Kudrna's deflection trickling in off US goaltender Ryan Zapolski.

Donato put the Americans ahead again 2:51 into the third period by slipping the puck between the pads of Slovakian goaltender Jan Laco.

"We're just concerned about getting shots and creating havoc around the net," Donato said. "The team gave us (young guys) confidence we could score goals and we're burying our chances. It's building up our confidence."

Fans of both teams united for the Mexican wave around the sold-out Gangneung Hockey Centre in the final tension-packed minutes as Slovakia pressed to equalise.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game," said Slovakia's Juraj Valach. "We made too many penalties." Zapolski, who made 21 saves, likes the lift the collegians bring.

"They come out with a lot of energy and passion," he said. "It's incredible."

Troy Terry, who helped Denver to last year's US college crown, must set aside his boyhood dreams and face the reality of opposing Russian former NHL stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk.

"I grew up watching Datsyuk and Kovalchuk," he said. "For me it's just getting over the fact I'm playing those guys and knowing with my speed I'm able to make a difference.

"The more we can settle in and not make a big deal out of the game, the better we'll do."

The Olympic Athletes from Russia face Slovenia later. Other games send Finland against Norway and Sweden against Germany.

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