US men stunned by Slovenia in Olympic hockey opener

Jan Mursak (39), of Slovenia, celebrates with teammates after scoring the game winning goal as Ryan Zapolski (30), of the United States, skates away after the overtime period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Slovenia won 3-2. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Jan Mursak (39) celebrated with teammates after beating US goalie Ryan Zapolski in overtime.

Five practices were supposed to prepare the Americans for this, and they knew at the second intermission Slovenia was going to come out punching.

The preparation and the knowledge were not enough to fend off the fatigue as the United States blew a two-goal lead and lost a 3-2 stunner in overtime Wednesday night in the Olympic hockey opener for both teams. Slovenia captain Jan Mursak scored the tying goal with 1:37 left in regulation and the winner 38 seconds into overtime.

Long before that, the US started letting the game slip away with mistakes all over the ice.


‘‘We started turning the puck over in our zone and they were getting chances and that led to some momentum for them,’’ said goaltender Ryan Zapolski, who allowed three goals on 25 shots. ‘‘We can’t give up those chances that we were giving up out of nothing there in the third. That really kills your momentum. And they scored a goal off one of them and from that point we were kind of on our heels.’’

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Brian O’Neill and BU’s Jordan Greenway, who became the first African-American hockey player for the US at an Olympics, scored to build the 2-0 lead in a dominant showing, and the shots were 24-12 after two periods. Coach Tony Granato pointed out that Slovenia probably should have been the more tired team from playing so much in its defensive zone, but there was none of that from a group that has only one player — Mursak — with NHL experience.

In the game because of goalie Gasper Kroselj, who stopped 34 of 36 shots, Slovenia came to life when Jan Urbas scored 5:37 into the third period. With fans chanting ‘‘SLO-VE-NI-A,’’ the perennial underdogs started pouring it on.

‘‘We outskated them in the third, especially, and had more energy,’’ said Mursak, who spent time with the Detroit Red Wings. ‘‘After we scored that first goal, I think we really got that extra energy and the feeling that can score some more.’’

After flashing the breakneck speed of forward Garrett Roe on O’Neill’s goal and the quick reaction of Greenway on his rebound tally, the US suddenly looked gassed. Granato wondered if 21 players dressing in their first Olympic game combined with the hype and long day before a late start took a toll on his team, which hadn’t played together much.


‘‘Our energy in the third wasn’t great,’’ Granato said. ‘‘It could’ve been a little fatigue just set in mentally because of the way that the day was. But no excuses . . . They were the better team in the third and it was good enough for them to get the win.”

The US at least picked up a point by getting to overtime, while the Russians lost, 3-2, in regulation to Slovakia across town at Gangneung Hockey Centre. After each team’s first game, Slovakia is atop Group B, followed by Slovenia, the US, and the Russians.

No one expected this kind of showing from Slovenia, which looked overmatched in the first two periods and is mostly known for having a star in Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar. There was no Kopitar — this is the first Olympics since 1994 without NHL players — but still the same pluck and no-quit attitude that helped the Slovenians beat rival Slovakia in Sochi for one of the biggest victories in national history.

Slovenia added another by upsetting the US and gets the Russians next.

‘‘I’m proud of my guys,’’ Mursak said. ‘‘I’m proud of the team and hopefully we can start looking to the next game and surprise somebody else.’’


The Americans didn’t expect to be surprised by much but go back to the drawing board to prepare to face Slovakia on Friday.

‘‘We’ll learn from this,’’ O'Neill said. ‘‘We haven’t played a whole lot of hockey as a team together. So it’s good for us to learn from that third period.’’

Greenway makes history

Greenway’s time on the ice this week marked an Olympic milestone of a different kind.

The Boston University junior and Terriers left winger is the first African-American player to take part in the Olympics for the US men’s ice hockey team since the sport was introduced to the Games in 1920, an experience he hopes will inspire other young black athletes.

“I hope I’m the first of many,” Greenway told BU Today, Boston University’s official news site, in an interview before heading to the Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. “These are memories that I’ll have forever.”

Greenway, who is 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 225 pounds, got the call about making the team late last year. The life-changing event was made possible by the National Hockey League’s decision to not send professional athletes to the Olympics this year.

Though the news came after the holidays, he told NBC Sports that it was “one of the best Christmas presents” that he received.

“I was really excited,” said Greenway, who was raised by his mother in Canton, N.Y., where his love of hockey took shape.

Greenway is one of two local NCAA players picked to join the 2018 Olympic team, according to Harvard’s Ryan Donato, of Scituate, is with him in South Korea.

According to Greenway’s biography on the US men’s hockey team website, the BU star player was selected by the Minnesota Wild in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft. Ultimately, he decided to return to school for another season.

“I don’t want to be average. I want to come in and have an impact,” he told “So going back to school for one more year, that’s what I’m going to do.”

He counts “being with a team, winning, and being in the locker room with all your teammates” as being among his favorite aspects of hockey.

Greenway’s Olympic debut comes not long after he helped his teammates at BU soar to a 3-2 victory against Harvard University during the first round of this year’s Beanpot Tournament last week, according to BU Today. The team eventually fell to Northeastern University in the finals — a game Greenway skipped as he headed to PyeongChang — ending a 30-year drought for the Huskies.

As for his time in South Korea, it looks like Greenway is doing well by his team there, too.

On Wednesday, the 20-year-old scored his first Olympic goal against Slovenia, during the second period, putting the United States up 2-0. The move was celebrated by his team and lauded by spectators as he became the first black goal-scorer in Olympic history, reports said.

Despite his best efforts, the men’s team lost 3-2 in overtime during the opening game at the Kwandong Hockey Centre.

But it doesn’t seem likely that the early hit will slow down the Boston player’s determination to come home with a victory.

“I never thought it would come this soon, like before I graduate from college,” he told the Associated Press of his chance to play in the Olympics. “But I’m excited it’s happening this year and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”

Steve Annear

On the board

The joint Korean women’s hockey team finally scored its first goal of the Olympics, courtesy of a pair of Americans.

Randi Heesoo Griffin scored at 9:31 of the second period on the Koreans’ 33rd shot of the Olympics in their third game. She grew up in Cary, N.C., and her mother is from South Korea.

Griffin was set up for the goal by Marissa Brandt, who now lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota and who is playing for the country where she was born. Her birth name is Park Yoonjung, the name she uses on the back of her Korean team jersey.

Griffin’s goal led to an eruption from the fans filling Kwandong Hockey Center. Better yet, the goal pulled the combined Korean team within 2-1 of Japan — South Korea’s biggest Asian rival.

2026 host needed

Wanted: A city to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Getting bidders for the Olympics used to be easy. But no longer, and particularly for the Winter Games.

Six European cities pulled out of official bids or possible bids when the IOC sought candidates a few years ago for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Cities balked over soaring costs, political unrest or a lack of public support as expressed in referendums.

That left the IOC with only two proposals, both from authoritarian governments that backed cities devoid of winter sports traditions: Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing, China.

Beijing narrowly won, but that set off alarms at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

‘‘The 2022 [bidding] certainly highlighted the problems we were facing in attracting cities, particularly winter cities,’’ IOC member and former vice president John Coates said. ‘‘We had to do something to address the cost of the Games. Increased costs have forced our hand.’’

Coates said the International Olympic Committee is doing a ‘‘total rethink’’ over the way the Games are presented to potential bidders, and how they’re sold to the public.

The Switzerland-based Olympic body is trying to rebrand, billing itself as user friendly and at the service of host cities — and not the other way around. Officials are talking up flexibility and cost cutting, trying to change the IOC’s image of pressuring cities to build new sports venues that quickly become unused ‘‘white elephants.’’

Four cities have shown preliminary interest for 2026: Stockholm, Sweden; Calgary, Canada; Sion, Switzerland; and Sapporo, Japan. Calgary and Sapporo have hosted previous Winter Olympics, and Stockholm held the Summer Olympics in 1912. Sweden has never held the Winter Olympics.