Czech Republic-United States Preview
By JEFF BARTL, AP
Tue Feb 18, 9:17 PM UTC
Not a single member of the current American team was alive when the "Miracle on Ice" helped bring the United States its last gold medal in Olympic ice hockey.
Even though winning gold in Sochi won't be considered a miracle by any stretch, the 2014 U.S. team is trying to write its own history. After an unbeaten run through the preliminary round, Team USA heads into Wednesday's quarterfinal against the Czech Republic with one goal in mind.
This American team has heard all the stories about the collection of college players in 1980 that upset the mighty Soviet Union on its way to gold in Lake Placid. Many on the current roster came close to accomplishing that same goal at Vancouver in 2010 before suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss to Canada in the final.
After Phil Kessel scored the United States' first Olympic hat trick since John LeClair in 2002 in Sunday's 5-1 win over Slovenia, all he could focus on was how he helped the team get closer to an elusive gold medal.
"It's about the wins, right?" Kessel said. "It's not about me, it's about the win. We can still improve more, and we have to get a lot better."
Joe Pavelski assisted on each of Kessel's goals. The two have combined to form a formidable line with James van Riemsdyk, and Kessel leads the tournament in scoring with four goals and three assists.
"I'm playing with great players, so they always make you better out there," Kessel told Team USA's official website. "Obviously I'm comfortable with James. We play together all year long (with the Toronto Maple Leafs). Pavs is a great player. We're just trying to make some plays."
Coach Dan Bylsma was impressed with how his squad was able to remain focused after an emotional 3-2 win over host Russia on Saturday that made T.J. Oshie a national celebrity with his four shootout goals.
"I was certainly concerned after the emotional game," Bylsma said. "We were fortunate that we got right out of the gate with a couple great plays."
Though the Americans are thinking gold, they won't be looking past a determined Czech Republic team coming off a 5-3 win over Slovakia in Tuesday's qualifying round.
After dropping two of three in group play, the Czechs raced to a 4-0 lead before holding on. Roman Cervenka had two goals, and Ales Hemsky and David Krejci also scored.
Five-time Olympian Jaromir Jagr assisted on Cervenka's first goal.
"We got the job done, that's the most important thing," Krejci said. "We're one game away to play for a medal, and that's pretty special."
In order to get to the semifinals, they will have to get past an American team full of NHL talent - something the Czechs can't boast.
"It will be a tough game, but at this point in the tournament there's no easy games," said Hemsky, who plays for the Edmonton Oilers. "Anyone can win against anybody."
Ondrej Pavelec made 29 saves Tuesday, but it's unclear if he or Alexander Salak will be in net for this contest.
Jonathan Quick started the first two contests for Team USA before Ryan Miller was 17.6 seconds away from shutting out Slovenia. Bylsma wouldn't say who will get the nod against the Czechs.
The Associated Press