Slovakia is celebrating a landmark moment in its ice hockey history — but on the other side of the coin the result is anything but a miracle.
Slovakia stunned the world on Wednesday with a dramatic penalty shoot-out win against the United States, sending the American giants crashing out of the tournament in the quarter-final stages.
American hockey commentators are calling for major changes with the Team USA men’s team now failing to make it to the semi-finals since the 2014 Olympics.
The men’s team has not won a gold medal since the iconic ‘Miracle on Ice’ victory over the USSR team in 1980.
It is looking more and more like a hoodoo or even a curse. By the time the 2026 Olympics roll around the United States’ men’s team will not have won gold for 46 years.
It was all too much for some.
NBC ice hockey commentator Ryan Quigley posted on Twitter the team made too many errors in its selections and tactics, describing one move as “unfathomable”.
“Oh my god, the U.S. really just lost to Slovakia in the shootout,” he posted on Twitter.
“That just happened. The U.S. men’s hockey team, after going undefeated in group play, lost to Slovakia in the quarterfinals. Their Olympic journey is over.”
The pain was made all the more agonising for American fans after watching their team go through the group stages undefeated, including a win against a powerhouse Canadian team.
There were layers and layers of pain for the Americans to confront after the team had also been 44 seconds away from progressing to the semi-finals without the game needing to go beyond regulation time.
The United States were on the verge of sending Slovakia home when captain Marek Hrivik scored to tie the game and send it into overtime at 3-3.
Slovakia scored the only goal in the final penalty shootout, winning the game 4-3.
When Team USA missed its final penalty there were scenes of pandemonium as Slovakian players went berserk on the ice.
USA captain Andy Miele had one last shot but his effort was smothered by Slovak netminder Patrik Rybar.
According to Associated Press reporter Stephen Whyno, Miele was wiping away tears when speaking at the end of the game.
“I’m just sad it’s over,” he said.
The emotion for some American commentators was anger.
Vermont TV sports director Jack Fitzsimmons wrote on Twitter it was a “horrific embarrassment”.
“USA Hockey is completely lost as an organisation right now, at least on the senior men’s side,” he said.
It was so close for the United States.
Slovakia’s big 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky, who has emerged as one of the stars of the tournament, opened the scoring midway through the first period, giving him five goals in Beijing to lead all players.
The US took back the lead early in the second and held it until Hrivik’s late goal.
The pandemic-driven decision by the National Hockey League, the world’s top pro league, to keep its superstars away from Beijing has deprived the Olympics of a best-on-best competition.
The NHL absence has particularly weakened the USA and Canada, forcing them to assemble collections of ageing veterans and NHL-bound youngsters who had little time to prepare together.
Still, the United States — the youngest squad in Beijing — went 3-0 in group play thanks largely to its speed on the ice, but had their hands full in a scrappy game against the opportunistic Slovaks.
Suddenly it’s all over and they’re going home.
— with AFP