The Miracle on Ice happened 34 years ago, but it’s been a mini-miracle of some sorts that the United States has yet to capture a gold medal in hockey since that glorious week in Lake Placid despite having the luxury of using NHL players – something no team was allowed to have back in 1980.
The U.S. took its first step to erase their gold medal drought after they trounced on Slovakia with six second period goals en route to a 7-1 victory in Sochi. Paul Stastny, whose father, Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, played extensively for the Czechoslovakian and Slovakian national teams throughout his career and is a actually a member of the European parliament in Slovakia, scored two goals as part of the win.
Team USA only had one tuneup before their first game because of the fact that the entire team is composed of NHL players, all of whom had to make the long trip from North America. Perhaps from lack of chemistry or rust, the Americans didn’t get their first goal until 14:27 into the first period when Natick native and current Washington Capital John Carlson ripped a shot past Jaroslav Halak to give the U.S. 1-0 lead.
The Americans had numerous opportunities in the first period, outshooting Slovakia 11-4 but it wasn’t until the second when they broke loose. Tomas Tatar and the Slovakians would answer in the second period to even up the score, but after that it was all Team USA.
Just 58 seconds after Tatar’s goal, Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler received a pass from Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane and ripped it past Halak from the slot. From there, the Americans never looked back. About a minute later, Stastny scored his first goal of the game to give the Americans a 3-1 lead.
Stastny’s second goal helped put the Red, White, and Blue up 5-1 and it came on a beautiful cross-ice pass which Stastny buried behind Halak. Halak’s night ended early as he got pulled from the game following that goal. Phil Kessel, David Backes, and Dustin Brown also notched goals and helped show the world that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with this Olympic year.
After Halak was chased out of the game, Peter Budaj allowed two more goals before settling down with a clean third period. In the American net, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick stopped 22 shots, including three from Bruins’ defenseman and Slovakian captain Zdeno Chara, and bounced back well after allowing a goal to Tatar.
The Americans are looking to bounce back after a heartbreaking gold medal game loss to Team Canada in Vancouver. In fact, the United States has only medaled twice since the Lake Placid games with another silver medal coming in the 2002 Salt Lake City games. More interestingly, the Americans have failed to medal in hockey in a non-North American venue since 1972 when they won silver in Sapporo.
The size of the U.S. victory puts the Americans at the top of Group A because of a superior goal differential over Russia, who also won in Group A play. Team USA returns to action on Saturday against host country Russia in a highly anticipated matchup at the Bolshoy Ice Dome before playing Slovenia on Sunday to close out group play. The United States will look to channel a little bit of that 1980 magic against the Russians.