GANGNEUNG, South Korea – When Jim Johannson was putting together the roster for the U.S. Men’s Team, he had certain players in mind to fill specific roles. A few were slated for special teams, some to serve as energy guys and others to shut down the opposition’s top players.
James Wisniewski’s role was clearly defined from the moment he was named to the team. His job was to bring the heat from the point on the power play. The 33-year-old defenseman executed that role very well here tonight as his second-period goal helped propel the U.S. to a 5-1 victory over Slovakia to punch their ticket to tomorrow’s quarterfinal matchup with the Czech Republic.
James Wisniewski gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead with a power-play goal in the 2nd period
While the senior statesman on the U.S. blueline crew notched his first goal of the tournament, it was the young college kids who garnered much of the attention. Ryan Donato continued his torrid scoring pace, tying his father’s Olympic output in 1992 with his fourth goal of the tournament, and Troy Terry, the youngest player on the team, played well beyond his years picking up three assists.
That talent was on display as they teamed up early in the second period to give the U.S. lead. Terry considers himself more of a playmaker, and he showed that as he split the Slovakian defense and lost the handle before he could get a shot on goal. He stuck with the play and got the puck to Donato who deposited it in the back of the net.
“When you have a guy who’s that fast and that skilled it’s pretty easy to play with,” Terry said. “I’m more of a play maker and a passer so I know that if I get the puck to him there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to go in the net.”
Less than a minute later, former Phoenix Coyote Ladislav Nagy bowled over goaltender Ryan Zapolski, leading to another U.S. power play. While Zapolski was trying to shake loose the cobwebs from the collision, officials huddled to assess Michal Cajkovsky with a 5-minute major and game misconduct for trying to disconnect Donato’s head from the rest of his body, setting the stage for a two-man advantage.
“I just dropped my head for a second to look at the puck and when I came up I had an elbow in my mouth,” said Donato, who would add a late power-play goal to round out the scoring. “It didn’t feel too great, I’m not going to lie, but it created a 5-on-3 and we were able to capitalize on it.”
The U.S. took advantage of that open space as Terry put the puck right in Wisniewski’s wheelhouse and he made no mistake blasting a low shot that hit the back of the net before Slovak goaltender Jan Laco would even flinch.
“We have him there for one reason, to shoot the puck on the power play,” said U.S. head coach Tony Granato. “And he couldn’t have found a better time to get his first one, and that was a big one.”
For his part, the 11-year NHL veteran now playing in Germany is more than happy to share the spotlight with his younger teammates.
“I hope they score 100 goals and I get a gold medal because of it,” said Wisniewski, who has rarely seen the ice other than when the U.S. has a man advantage. “These guys are so talented and so skilled and such great kids that it’s been more than a pleasure to play with them.”
Mark Arcobello and Garrett Roe scored their first goals of the tournament as the U.S. offensive output eclipsed their scoring in their first three games. With the high-powered Czechs up next, the U.S. will need that scoring to continue. While the defensive-minded Slovaks gave the Americans all they could handle, the Czechs play a more offensive game that led them to three wins in the preliminary round.
Regardless of what their opponents throw at them, Granato and crew are confident that if they focus on what they do best, things will work out fine.
“It doesn’t matter what the other team does, we have to attack and get in on the forecheck and use our offensive players that we do have and the skill set that we do have,” Granato said. “We’re small, quick and tough to play against in the offensive zone. That’s the way we’ll have to attack them tomorrow.”
After some spotty play in the preliminary round, today’s game was a total team effort that has bolstered the confidence among a group that few have given much of a chance to medal.
“I won’t call them doubters but we’ve had people who were pretty skeptical of the team. I still see that. We have guys saying ‘there should’ve been more college guys,' and stuff like that,” said Terry, a senior at the University of Denver.
“There’s all sorts of talk about our team but we’re just a very focused group. We don’t care what people say. We have a lot of belief in our team and I think people saw tonight that we have a very fast team and a team that can play good hockey. We have a lot of belief in ourselves and we’re excited to keep going.”
|Wed., Feb. 14||Slovenia||Preliminary||OTL, 2-3||Kwandong Hockey Centre|
|Fri., Feb. 16||Slovakia||Preliminary||W, 2-1||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Sat., Feb. 17||Olympic Athletes From Russia||Preliminary||L, 0-4||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Tues., Feb. 20||Slovakia||Qualification||W, 5-1||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Wed., Feb 21||Czech Republic||Quarterfinals||SOL, 2-3||Gangneung Hockey Centre|