Team USA beat Canada 4-2 in their ice hockey preliminary round match at the Beijing Olympics on Saturday, beating their arch-rivals and taking advantage of Canadian mistakes.
Captain Andy Meili scored a goal and an assist, while goalkeeper Strauss-Mann managed to save the United States 35 times (2-0-0), which took first place in Group A ahead of Canada (1-1-0). Team USA’s last win over Canada in men’s Olympic hockey was on February 21, 2010, at the Vancouver Winter Games.
It was a win for the Americans. While Canada has brought a veteran-laden team to Beijing — their captain, Eric Stahl, is the 17-year-old NHL veteran — the U.S. roster consists primarily of NCAA players. Their inexperienced moments were overshadowed by their speed and ferocious streak against Canada.
“We didn’t hold back from their physical play,” Milly said. “I love the way our team responded. I’m so proud of this group. We were beaten. They kept going, we kept coming back to them and we got the result we deserved.”
Canada hit first 1:24 in the match. After American forward Ben Myers turned the ball into the center of the ice, Canadian Josh Ho-Sang sent a pass through the attacking area to forward Matt Robinson. Sending a long shot off the wing missed goalkeeper Strauss-Mann, not putting his stick on the ice to block it, and Canada had an early lead 1-0.
Rather than go down, the U.S. responded quickly thanks to two of the team’s veterans. After just 1:10, Millie got a great pass from Brian O’Neill to break into 2-on-1. Defender Alex Grant slipped to block a potential pass for USA forward Kenny Agostino, but Millie held the puck and sent a backhand volley at goalkeeper Eddie Pascual, who had fallen on the ice too soon.
The United States took the lead with 1:16 remaining in the first period. Defenseman Jake Sanderson, who arrived late to the Olympics after being under COVID-19 protocol, did a disc skating deep in the Canadian region. His pass was blocked by Canada directly to Sean Farrell, who had five points in the Americans’ win over China. Passed the puck to Myers for a goal and 2-1 advantage before the second half.
The Americans made it 3-1 at just 2:37 per second using their front check to force Pasquale into a spin. Striker Nathan Smith knocked the disc off the goalkeeper to Nick Shore behind the net. A pass from Brendan Bryson up front and potential Vegas Golden Knights player got Pascual off his position to score an easy goal – his second goal in the Olympics.
“Kids can play, I think it’s safe to say,” Agostino said. “Obviously we have a lot of speed and a lot of talent, but I think this was the man match of the night: Canada and the USA, there is no need for a real explanation. I think they all went up and played like the guys there.”
The United States had a strong first in the game, but it was Canada that ended up on the scoreboard. Center Mattie Penners, a point player, made an ineffective pinch to try to keep the pinch in the attacking area. Instead, Canada featured in a 2-on-1 break and Corban Knight, a former NHL player, scored a reduced goal to cut the difference to 3-2 with 5:47 remaining in the period.
Team USA scored a crucial 6:13 locking goal in the third inning, in a play that Mann started with a prick check. Millie collected the disc and threw it in the Canadian region. Then came two Canadian missteps: Defenseman Maxim Noreau missed the disc and handed it to Miele, then Pasquale fired a wobbly blast from Agostino leading 4-2.
“I fought the disc pretty much all night,” Pasquale said. “I gave up two weak goals. If you save those two goals, we’ll play 2-2 in overtime.”
The United States maintained that lead with a strong 5-on-3 play for Canada late in the third game, when Mann made seven saves and earned a goal post with one Canadian chance – one of four they scored in the game.
The Americans conclude the preliminary round on Sunday against Germany. The Canadians are playing against host China.