Ex-Wing Jan Mursak, Slovenia stun U.S. in hockey opener
Detroit — A guy who spends a lot of time around Saginaw in the summer gave Team USA fits in Gangneung, South Korea, on Wednesday, as Slovenia shocked the men’s ice-hockey team, 3-2, in overtime.
Former Red Wing Jan Mursak, the only Slovene with any NHL experience, provided huge leadership and two goals, one to tie the game with just 1:17 remaining in the third period and another to win it 38 seconds into overtime.
Mursak’s wife, Victoria, is from the Saginaw area, where Mursak played major junior hockey with the Spirit of the OHL, from 2006-08.
“I'm happy I was able to score today and help the team,” Mursak said after the game, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation. “But I think the whole team showed a really good performance today."
He played 232 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins from 2008-13, and 46 with the Wings from 2010-13, before beginning to play in Russia for Moscow of the KHL
For the United States, the loss represented a huge stumble out of the gate in the first quadrennial Olympic tournament played without NHL players since 1994.
Tony Granato, a former assistant coach of the Red Wings, who is how head coach at Wisconsin, and Chris Chelios, who is currently an assistant coach in Detroit, are two of the United States coaches.
“I thought we played two great periods,” Granato said, according to USA Hockey.
“We were on our heels in the third at times and they took advantage. Give them credit. All-in-all, I liked the way we played. We’ve got a terrific group and we’ll be ready to play Slovakia."
The Americans built a 2-0 lead on goals by Brian O’Neill, a former player at Yale who now plays for Jokerit in the KHL, and Jordan Greenway.
Greenway, of Boston College and an NHL draft pick of the Wild, became the first African-American to play for the United States in the Olympics.
But it was a day for Mursak and Slovenia.
Mursak is one of three Slovenes to play in the NHL, all-time. He scored two goals and two assists in his career, for the Red Wings. He had 49 goals and 74 assists for 123 points in 186 KHL games, entering this season.
Greg Kuznik played one game for the Hurricanes in 2001, and Anze Kopitar, of the Kings, has played in 896, compiling 797 points.
But will little time left in the game Wednesday, Mursak lingered toward the front of the United States goal crease, near goalie Ryan Zapolski.
Slovenia had begun to tilt the ice toward the United States end, after they were out-shot for most of the first two periods, as the Americans were mostly the aggressors.
With some pressure on, after a penalty to U.S. captain Brian Gionta, Slovenia pulled their goalie for an extra attacker.
Blaz Gregorc, who had a goal and an assist for Slovenia, fired shot on goal from the point. Zapolski made the save, but the rebound plopped pregnant with opportunity on to the ice at the Kwandong Hockey Centre, with Mursak standing over it.
The big center wheeled to his left, pirouetted, carried the puck along with him through the rotation and fired it cleanly behind Zapolski.
In 3-on-3 overtime, after a scoring chance for the United States, Slovenia brought the puck down ice and, on a break-in, made sure it got on to the stick of their captain for the winning goal.
The U.S. defenseman Matt Gilroy blocked an initial pass from Rok Ticar to Mursak. But Ticar retrieved the puck and stubbornly repeated the task.
This time, the pass made it through, and Mursak beat Zapolski on the stick side, to win the game.
“I think we played well for the first two periods, and then in the third they came out with a little more fire,” Greenway said, on the NBCSN broadcast. “It’s a good team, I’ll give them credit.
“But we’ve got to find a way to finish the game.”
Mursak played in his first NHL game December 28, 2010 for the Red Wings, replacing Daniel Cleary, who had injured his ankle. He scored his first goal against the Avalanche, January 10, 2011.
After the 2012 lockout, preparing for a shot at a full season with the Wings, Mursak broke his collarbone.
Returning to the lineup later in the season, he had trouble finding any playing time, the Red Wings put him on waivers and Mursak signed with Amur Khabarovsk of the KHL.
He has played for Slovenia in the World Junior Championships and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
It was the first win for Slovenia over the United States in Olympic men’s ice hockey. The U.S., playing with NHL players, beat Slovenia 5-1, at Sochi, in 2014.
The United States continues preliminary round play against Slovakia at 10:10 Eastern Thursday.
The broadcast is on CNBC.