Greg Burke- USA Today Sports

USA Mens' Hockey Team , With Gionta, Leggio, Lose In Olympic Debut

Overtime Goal By Slovenia in Early Morning Play

February 14, 2018 - 10:41 am
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 The USA Mens' Hockey team- with former Sabre Brian Gionta and Williamsville's David Leggio -- had an expected loss Wednesday morning in an overtime defeat to Slovenia, 3-2.

Jan Mursak scored the tying goal in the final minutes of regulation as Slovenia came back to stun the United States at Kwandong Hockey Centre in each team’s Olympic opener.

Mursak, Slovenia’s only player with NHL experience, scored with goaltender Gasper Kroselj pulled for the extra attacker with 1:37 left in the third period and scored the winner 38 seconds into overtime. As Mursak’s shot went past goaltender Ryan Zapolski, U.S. players hung their heads on the bench before Slovenia players celebrated with their fans.

It wasn’t the only surprise of the night, though the U.S., like all the other teams, is playing without NHL players for the first time since 1994. Across town, the favored Russians opened Olympic play with a 3-2 loss to Slovakia.

Leggio, a backup goalie,  did not dress for the game,   Zapolski, an Erie PA native,  allowed three goals on 25 shots, including the first goal by Jan Urbas. Kroselj stopped 34 of the 36 shots he faced to pick up the victory, giving up goals to Brian O’Neill and Jordan Greenway.

The two will play against Slovakia in Friday.,  RELATED: WNY Olympians in the Spotlight Today

After a feeling-out period in the first few minutes and American defenseman Noah Welch sliding in front of a wide-open net for the save of the game, the U.S. began drawing penalties with its speed and then found a way to cash in. Forward Garrett Roe flew down the left wing and dished the puck to a waiting O’Neill to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead 17:44 in.

Kroselj made a handful of quality saves to keep Slovenia in the game, and Zapolski had to do the same in the second period, stopping Urbas on a one-timer with Greenway in the box and the U.S. on the penalty kill.

Greenway, who was noticeably frustrated when he was denied on a point-blank chance early, made up for it with a heads-up play that made it 2-0. Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti’s initial shot pinballed off O’Neill in front and Greenway sped to the net to put home the rebound 12:57 into the second.

The U.S. doubled up Slovenia in shots after two but couldn’t pull away and increase its margin of error. It became razor thin 5:49 into the third when Blaž Gregorc beat Zapolski to get Slovenia on the board.

With Gionta off for tripping, the U.S. got a couple of scares when Slovenia hit the post early on the power play and then almost scored moments later. With 1:37 left, Mursak scored from in front when playing 6-on-5. That goal forced overtime, where Slovenia continued to ride its momentum.

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