Our Maverick Olympians Nathan Smith and Mike Hastings began their win or go home segment of the ice hockey tournament in Beijing this past Tuesday against Slovakia. With the three wins in prelims, the United States claimed the top seed in the remainder of the Olympic tournament that would crown the winner with gold.
After earning the first seed in the elimination rounds, team USA was either going to be met by the winner of the Slovakia-Germany game in the first round. Slovakia ended up defeating the Germans 4-0 to move on to team USA in the quarterfinal round.
It was the Slovaks who struck first despite a strong start from the Americans, as 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky collected the puck in the slot and buried it past U.S. netminder Strauss Mann to go up one.
The Americans responded when down one as they had been used to doing in nearly every game of the Olympics in Beijing, with Nick Abruzzese collecting his first goal of the tournament.
Team USA was the only team to get on the board in the second period, with Sam Hentges collecting the lone goal at the 8:56 mark. It was a nice tic-tac-toe play for the Americans, as Nathan Smith passed the puck to Nick Perbix on the break who eventually found Hentges who ripped the puck past the Slovak goaltender.
The remainder of the second period ended scoreless and with nearly a scoreless third period in the books, the Slovaks found the puck on a scramble in front of the net to bury the game tying goal with 44 seconds remaining in regulation.
A back and fourth overtime period with several scoring chances ended without a goal as both goaltenders shined. The two teams then headed to a shootout.
The United States won the coin toss and chose to shoot first. Three straight empty handed trips in the shootout led the teams to the fourth round where Minnesota State’s Nate Smith got his chance at the Slovak goaltender one-on-one.
Smith gained speed down the right side of the ice before eventually making several dekes and taking a shot at the right side of the net. Smith could not quite lift the puck properly to bury it which led to Slovakia’s chance to break the scoreless fourth.
Peter Cehlarik made the most of his opportunity, burying the one and only goal advancing Slovakia to the semifinals after the Americans could not score a goal in the final round.
Smith completed his Olympic debut with one goal and one assist for two total points in four games. Coach Hastings earned a 3-1-0 record in his first gig as assistant coach of the Olympic National Team under David Quinn.