GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- A promising start to the U.S. men’s ice hockey team’s Olympic campaign gradually faded away in the third period before ending abruptly in overtime.
Team USA suffered a 3-2 loss to Slovenia in its first game of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. In a five-minute, sudden-death overtime, Slovenia scored in less than a minute to end the game at Kwandong Hockey Centre on Wednesday.
Even though Team USA led 2-0 heading into the third period, causing “U-S-A” chants to occasionally flood the arena, Slovenia powered back to tie the game with fewer than two minutes remaining in the final period.
“We've been looking forward to this date for a long time now and [this is a] disappointing way to finish it off,” U.S. forward Ryan Stoa said.
Brian O’Neill, a 29-year-old who plays professionally in Finland, scored first for Team USA with more than two minutes left in the first period. Later, Jordan Greenway, who plays at Boston University, scored Team USA’s second goal of the night, which, at the time, seemed to be a score that could have helped seal the win for the U.S.
But then Slovenia entered the third period and suddenly started to give the U.S. defensive trouble. Once Slovenia scored its first goal, Stoa said he thinks the game began to shift.
“The came out hot [in the third period],” Greenway said. “We just didn't find a way to finish the game.”
The team, defenseman Chad Billins said, needs to quickly move forward. About 36 hours after the overtime loss, Team USA will face Slovakia to continue its Olympic slate.
For all but one, this is their first Olympic experience. Since NHL players are not on the U.S. roster for the first time since the 1994 Games, the team is made up of athletes making their Olympic debut. Many play professionally in Europe or American Hockey League, while others are still in college.
“We were given a unique opportunity, and I think all of us feel privileged and fortunate,” O’Neill said. “We're definitely going to try to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Brian Gionta, the 39-year-old captain, is the only member of the 2018 squad who has Olympic experience. The rest are soaking in a new accomplishment.
Wearing the Team USA jersey gave Billins chills. He called these Games exhilarating. O’Neill has enjoyed getting to interact with top athletes from other sports. The day before his Olympic debut, he got to hang out with speedskaters and was fascinated to hear about their skates.
A day later, O’Neill and Greenway notched their first Olympic goals. But the loss, O’Neill said, changed the feeling of that milestone because “the whole point of scoring is to get a win.”
Because of the close loss, these athletes’ Olympic debut is now two-sided. There’s the joy that came with stepping onto Olympic ice. And then there’s the heartbreak that came while stepping off.
“It's something I have always dreamed about,” Greenway said. “It would have been a lot better to get a win tonight.”
Emily Giambalvo is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.