International Ice Hockey Federation

Phil on fire, U.S. burns Slovenia

Phil on fire, U.S. burns Slovenia

Kessel nets hat trick in 5-1 win; U.S. bye to quarters

Published 16.02.2014 19:33 GMT+4 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Phil on fire, U.S. burns Slovenia
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 16: USA's Phil Kessel #81, Joe Pavelski #8 and James van Riemsdyk #21 celebrating after a first period goal against Slovenia during men's preliminary round action at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Phil Kessel scored two lovely goals early in the first period and completed his hat trick in the second to pace the Americans to a 5-1 win over Slovenia.

The win gives the U.S. a near-perfect record of 2-1-0-0, good enough for first place in Group A and a bye to the quarter-finals which begin on Wednesday.

"We have to keep improving," Kessel said. "It's now down to a single elimination."

"That was our goal, to get the bye, and now that we've done that, the real fun starts," said James vn Riemsdyk.

Ryan Miller was in goal for the Americans, playing for the first time in the Olympics since the gold-medal game in 2010. "I definitely had some nerves," he admitted. "This was an important game to ensure we're in the top of our pool. It was fun to get in the game and compete with the boys."

"We knew they had a good game yesterday. They have a lot of players who know each other and have good chemistry, so when we went up 2-0 early, it was obviously a good thing," said U.S. forward Patrick Kane.

Kessel entered the Olympic break as one of the hottest players in the NHL, scoring eleven goals and 27 points in the last 15 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He now leads the Olympics with four goals and seven points in three games.

Kessel’s first shift was memorable. He collected the puck at centre ice, made a sensational outside-in move on defenceman Mitja Robar and then beat goalie Luka Gracnar with a sneaky shot to the far side just 1:04 into the game.

Three and a half minutes later, Kessel was at it again. Joe Pavelski got to a shoot-in first and made a quick pass into the slot. Kessel batted the puck out of the air and into the goal to give the U.S. lead.

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The Slovenes recovered to play decent hockey the rest of the period, but the damage had been done. For a team that doesn’t score often, the two-goal deficit was significant.

Kessel made it a hat trick at 11:05 of the middle period when Gracnar couldn’t control Joe Pavelski’s point shot. Kessel had a tap in when Robar failed to take him in front.

"It's all about playing with great players," Kessel said. "They help you out and make it a lot easier."

The Americans salted the win with a nice pass and one-timer at 12:17. Blake Wheeler had the puck deep in the corner but found Ryan McDonagh on the far side, and he ripped a quick shot to the open side.

David Backes made it 5-0 early in the third when a hard pass from Ryan Callahan went in off Backes's skate. Video review confirmed the play occurred without a kicking motion.

Marcel Rodman clsoed out the scoring, breaking Miller's shutout with 17.6 seconds remaining in the game.

"Sometimes after an emotional game, you can have a letdown," Kane said, "but that wasn't the case, especially after Phil made a couple of nice plays."

Team USA will play its quarter-final game on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Slovenia will take on Austria in the Qualification Playoff on Tuesday. Coach Matjaz Kopitar hopes that his son Anze will be back in the line-up. He missed the last period because he felt ill.


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