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US men's hockey run comes to shocking end against Slovakia

Slovakia pulled its goalie for an extra attacker and were rewarded with the equalizer by Marek Hrivik with 44 seconds left to force overtime.

Peter Cehlarik of Slovakia shoots the puck past Strauss Mann
Peter Cehlarik of Slovakia shoots the puck past Strauss Mann to score during a penalty shootout of the 2022 Beijing Olympics quarterfinals.
Carlos Perez Gallardo / Reuters
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BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States suffered a shock 3-2 quarterfinal shootout loss to Slovakia in a thrilling clash at the men's ice hockey tournament in the Beijing Games on Wednesday.

While Slovakia dream of the country's first ever Olympic medal in the sport, Denmark's hopes were ended as the debutants lost 3-1 to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), who are defending champions, and Finland thrashed Switzerland 5-1. The day ended with Canada, gold medal winners in two of the last three Olympics, shut out 2-0 by Sweden in a rematch of the 2014 Sochi final.

Slovakia clinched a place in the last four when Peter Cehlarik was the only skater to score in a nail-biting shootout, beating U.S. netminder Strauss Mann after overtime ended with the game deadlocked at 2-2.

"It's tough, I felt pretty good in the shootout and felt good on that shot too. I felt I read it pretty well, it just snuck under my blocker," Mann said.

"It's a game of inches, I know everyone in our locker room gave it their all and props to them they battled hard and stuck with it," he added.

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After Cehlarik scored, the United States had one last chance to extend the shootout but captain Andy Miele could not beat netminder Patrik Rybar and the Slovakia bench erupted in wild celebration.

Unbeaten in group play, the U.S. looked headed for the semifinals in regulation, leading 2-1 until Slovakia pulled Rybar for an extra attacker and were rewarded with the equalizer by Marek Hrivik with 44 seconds left to force overtime.

Sam Hentges, who plays at St. Cloud State, put the U.S. ahead 2-1 in the second with his Huskies teammate Nick Perbix and Minnesota State's Nathan Smith assisting.

The Americans cobbled together an Olympic squad from colleges plus minor and European leagues when the NHL opted not to participate after a surge in COVID-19 cases in locker rooms forced the postponement of over 100 games.

Sean Farrell of the United States misses during a penalty shootout against Slovakia
Sean Farrell of the United States misses during a penalty shootout against Slovakia during the quarterfinals of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Carlos Perez Gallardo / Reuters

Youngest player

With the majority of the U.S. team still playing college hockey, they had the youngest roster, but Slovakia featured the youngest player in 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky.

The teenager has underlined his status as a top pick in next year's NHL draft, leading the Olympics scoring table with five.

If there were any NHL scouts left who were not already impressed by Slafkovsky, he gave them more reason to get excited when he unloaded a missile from the slot that Mann could only wave at as it landed in the back of the net.

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BEIJING — The 1.7-mile downhill course plunges through barren brown hillsides, past haggard trees and towering gray rock faces, all transformed by a coating of snow from a storm that passed through a few days earlier.

The U.S. answered with 46 seconds remaining in the first period with a nifty backhand from Nick Abruzzese before Sam Hentges put them ahead 2-1 with the second period's only goal.

As one half of the former Czechoslovakia, Slovakia made several appearances on the Olympic podium and as an independent nation reached the semi-finals at the 2010 Vancouver Games but failed to medal, losing to Finland in the bronze match.

"It happened 12-years ago and now again I can't wait to play in the semi-finals," said Slafkovsky. "I was watching this but I was six-years old and had to go to school or kindergarten.

"It is amazing that this happening."

Noah Cates of the United States in action against Slovakia
Noah Cates of the United States in action against Slovakia in a 2022 Beijing Olympics quarterfinal game Feb. 16, 2022, at the National Indoor Stadium in Beijing, China.
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