Gangneung, South Korea (AP) – Ryan Donato and Ryan Zapolski got knocked down, but they got up again and led the Americans into the quarterfinals at the Olympics.
Donato and Zapolski took blows to the head, stayed in the game and were two of the biggest reasons the U.S. beat Slovakia 5-1 Tuesday in the qualification round to move on to face the Czech Republic on Wednesday. As they got to their feet, the ’90s hit “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba with its familiar chorus of “I get knocked down but I get up again” blared over the speakers,
Donato scored two goals to tie his father, Ted, with four in a single Olympics and Zapolski stopped 21 shots in arguably his best game of the tournament while facing elimination for the first time. Along with Donato, fellow college player Troy Terry showed he can thrive on the big stage with three assists in a breakout performance by a team that had scored only four goals in the previous three Olympic Games.
“We all had to show up,” Zapolski said. “We know we have to win now to keep moving on. I think that’s something that shows how strong this team is and how resilient we are. We had I think our best game today.”
The offensive outburst included a power-play goal by James Wisniewski and goals at even strength by Mark Arcobello and Garrett Roe. Donato was the star, scoring twice against Slovakia for the second time after doing it in a 2-1 victory in group play.
Between periods, Donato saw video of his dad – who had four goals for the U.S. at the 1992 Albertville Games and coaches him at Harvard – in the stands and said, “I’ve never seen him smile like that before.”
Donato took a shoulder to the jaw from defenseman Michal Cajovsky just as Ladislav Nagy ran over Zapolski. Donato had his bloody nose on the bench but didn’t miss a shift, setting the screen on Wisniewski’s 5-on-3 power play goal.
“He’s a really tough kid, and you see how much just of a natural goal-scorer he is,” Terry said. “He’s fun to play with and if I get the puck to him I know it’s got a pretty good chance of going in.”
Slovakia scored a second-period, power-play goal by Peter Ceresnak through traffic that Zapolski had little chance of stopping. Zapolski was on his game after giving up some soft goals in the preliminary round and showed his toughness when he took the shot to the head from Nagy. He said he felt like he a pinched nerve in his neck.
“My hands and feet went numb a little bit,” Zapolski said. “A little bit of a stinger. I think I just needed time for the feeling to come back. It took a little bit. It was a little bit of a scary thing for me kind of losing feeling in your body for a little bit, but it went away pretty quickly.”
Scoring on the 5-on-3 power play that came with Cajovsky ejected and Nagy in the box was the kind of confidence-building goal the U.S. needed, and getting to five against the team coach Tony Granato called perhaps the best defensive team in the tournament has the Americans feeling good going into the quarterfinals.
“I think people saw tonight we have a very fast team and a team that can play good hockey,” Terry said. “So we have a lot of belief in our team and we’re excited to keep going.”
Despite a 4-0 loss to the Russians to wrap up group play, Granato and his players believe they’ve gotten better each game and see a benefit in playing the extra qualification-round game to keep improving. As top-seeded Sweden, the Russians and Canada wait for the other winners, the Czech Republic is up next for the U.S.
“There’s some different weapons that we’ll have to be aware of,” Granato said. “They’re a little bit more deeper offensively. But I think what we learned from our team is it doesn’t matter what the other team does. We have to attack, we have to get in on the forecheck, we have to use our offensive players that we do have, the skillset that we do have.”
In other qualification games later Tuesday, Finland played South Korea, with the winner advancing to take on Canada; Slovenia faced Norway, with the winner advancing to play the “Olympic Athletes from Russia”); and Germany played Switzerland, with the winner advancing to face Sweden.
NOTES: Slovakia goaltender Jan Laco allowed five goals on 33 shots. … St. Cloud State defenseman Will Borgen was a healthy scratch again for the United States. … Veteran forward Jim Slater returned to the lineup, replacing Chad Kolarik. … Former NHL player and coach Craig Ramsay coaches Slovakia.