SOCHI, Russia — The U.S. men’s hockey team was designed to be fast and hard to play against and it was all of that in the preliminary round of the Sochi Olympic tournament, sandwiching a dramatic shootout victory over Russia between routs of Slovakia and Slovenia.
But as many bruises as the U.S. players inflicted with their in-your-face style, as many vapor trails as they left by capitalizing on their speed on the wide international ice surface, those were only preludes to what they must do as the knockout phase begins.
The real test, center Ryan Kesler correctly said, begins this morning in the quarterfinals, in which the U.S. will face a Czech Republic team that is stocked with veterans and can score.
“We’re confident, but we know we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Kesler said. “It’s win or go home, and we focus on that game and not worry about anything else.”
Czech and Philadelphia Flyers winger Jakub Voracek had nothing but praise for the U.S. “They’re the best team in the tournament, the way they’re playing,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we get our power play going, like we did (Tuesday), because special teams is going to be huge. We’ve got to skate for 60 minutes because they’re a very fast team. We’ve got to make sure we are ready because it’s going to be tough.”
He acknowledged the Czechs tired in the third period Tuesday, and they will have only a day’s recovery time before they face the speedy U.S. That could wear them down.
But Alex Hemsky (Edmonton) said he and his teammates will feel no pressure.
“We have nothing to lose,” he said. “The U.S. are a great team. They have a young team and a lot of great players that can score,” he said. “They are a fast team and they are playing great all tournament. …
“You never know. If our goalie plays great again, you never know. It’s a tournament. One game, you never know.”
U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles) said he and his teammates gained self-assurance as they meshed during the first round.
“It’s a confident group,” said Quick, who will start today. “You win three games, you’re going to have some confidence. Obviously, we know we need to play better going forward here, so that’s what the focus is, trying to get better.”