BEIJING — When the NHL announced it was opting out of the Olympics, plenty of hockey fans were disappointed that the world's best players would not be in Beijing. Saturday, the U.S. and Canada proved the Olympic tournament doesn't need superstars to be entertaining.
The Americans won a fast, physical and thrilling game 4-2 at National Indoor Stadium to move to 2-0 in pool play. Four different players — including Gophers forward Ben Meyers of Delano — scored for the U.S., which rallied from a 1-0 deficit. The loss dropped Canada to 1-1.
"I think we played really simple,'' said U.S. forward Matt Knies, who plays for the Gophers. "Put pucks in. Take it to their net. Shoot pucks on net. That's our recipe.
"I think [Canada] played a physical game, and we matched that. That's what we were looking to do, match their pace and their physicality. I think we did that well, and that's why we had success.''
Canada took a 1-0 lead on Mat Robinson's goal at one minute, 24 seconds. Andy Miele drew the U.S. even at 2:34, scoring on the Americans' first shot on goal.
Meyers gave the U.S. its first lead, scoring off a pass from Sean Farrell with 1:16 left in the first period. The Americans made it 3-1 on Brendan Brisson's backhander at 2:37 of the second, but Canada found new life after the first penalty of the game.
With former Wild center Eric Staal in the box for elbowing, Canada's Corban Knight scored a shorthanded goal off a two-on-one rush to pull his team within 3-2. But the U.S. restored its two-goal lead at 6:13 of the third, when Kenny Agostino's shot hit the pad of Canada goaltender Eddie Pasquale and tumbled in.
While the Americans were 0-2 on the power play, the penalty kill came up big late in the game when it prevented Canada from scoring on two penalties, including a two-man advantage that ran for 31 seconds.
Strauss Mann had 35 saves for the U.S., while Pasquale stopped 23 shots.
The Canadians roared out of the gate, dominating the first few shifts and seizing a 1-0 lead. Physical, fast and aggressive, they put five shots on goal in the first two minutes and kept the play contained to the Americans' end.
Robinson put Canada on the scoreboard first, with a shot from the right boards that slipped through Mann's pads. But the U.S. turned things around quickly. Only 70 seconds after Robinson scored, Miele ended a beautiful passing sequence with a goal on the Americans' first shot of the game.
Moving down the right side, Steven Kampfer banked the puck off the boards. Brian O'Neill tipped it to a charging Miele, who flicked it past Pasquale to tie the score 1-1.
The U.S. held the upper hand for much of the rest of the period, supporting Strauss defensively while maintaining their offensive pressure. With just 1:16 remaining before the first intermission, Meyers—who had a point-blank shot stopped earlier—got loose down low and beat Pasquale for a 2-1 U.S. lead.
The Americans took advantage of a mistake by Pasquale to extend their lead to two goals early in the second period. The goaltender went behind his net to retrieve a puck, but Nick Shore of the U.S. scooped it up and shoveled it to Brisson in the slot. Brisson finished it off with a backhander at 2:37.
Staal took the first of two penalties midway through the period, elbowing Matty Beniers as Beniers headed to the bench. Canada bailed him out with a shorthanded goal, converting a takeaway into a two-on-one that ended with Knight sending the puck over Mann's shoulder.
That cut the U.S. lead to 3-2. Canada nearly evened the score on a power play late in the period, but Maxim Noreau's shot hit the crossbar.
Staal committed another penalty only seven seconds into the third period, slashing U.S. defenseman Aaron Ness hard on the left arm. The U.S. could not score on the power play, but it added an even-strength goal at 6:13 to stretch the lead back to two goals.
Miele stole the puck from Canada and delivered it to Agostino, whose shot hit Pasquale's pad and got past him.
"It feels great,'' Miele said. "But we're going to continue to focus on getting better every game, every practice.''
Seven of the nine U.S. players with Minnesota ties were in uniform Saturday. In addition to Meyers and Ness, defensemen Brock Faber and Nick Perbix and forwards Matt Knies, Noah Cates and Nathan Smith played for the Americans.