GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Ryan Donato watched Jordan Greenway’s goal celebration in the first game at the Olympics and starting getting an itch. He wanted to feel that same rush.
He got his wish right away. Twice.
Donato pumped his fist and jumped into the glass after scoring the Americans’ opening goal in Friday’s game against Slovakia. Joy overflowed again when Donato scored his second of the game that turned out to be the winner as he and his fellow college players led the way in an important 2-1 victory that put the U.S. atop its group heading into weekend play.
College players have been put in substantial roles and have scored three the Americans’ four goals, exceeding even the most optimistic expectations. Along with Donato and Greenway, Troy Terry dominated against Slovakia with his speed and showed the kind of spark USA Hockey expected when it trusted such young players on this global stage.
“Life moves pretty fast right now,” said Donato, whose father tied for the U.S. lead in scoring at the 1992 Olympics. “Coming in I don’t know if I saw myself in that role, but now that I’m here and kind of in that role, it’s building up guys like me, Troy and Jordan, our confidence, and hopefully it’ll continue to grow and hopefully help the team in a more major, impactful way.”
Donato, who plays for his father Ted at Harvard, Terry (Denver University), Greenway (Boston University) and American Hockey League scoring star Chris Bourque were all additions to the U.S. after the pre-Olympic Deutschland Cup, during which the U.S. struggled to score — particularly against Slovakia goaltender Jan Laco.
As he was in November, Laco was on top of his game, stopping 29 of the 31 shots he faced. Only this time, the Americans’ young skill that coach Tony Granato hoped would bring energy and offense came through and temporarily put the U.S. atop Group B with four points.
“They want to be over the boards and on the ice and in the action,” Granato said. “They’re not waiting and on their heels going this is too big for them. They’re going to be great players for a long time and obviously the next couple weeks hopefully we can get the best out of them like we have for the first two games.”
The U.S next faces Russia in each team’s final preliminary-round game Saturday night. Granato doesn’t expect his youngest players to be wide-eyed at the prospect of facing the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.
They certainly look like they belong at this tournament.
For Terry, who took two Slovakia defenders with him and made the drop pass to set up Donato’s first goal, it took several shifts in the opener against Slovenia to get used to this level of competition. In what turned out to be a brutal loss in which the U.S. blew a two-goal, third-period lead and lost in overtime, Terry discovered some confidence.
“(It took) a while to realize that I can play at this level and I can be a difference-maker,” Terry said. “Just knowing that I kind of have an edge on these guys just because of my speed and my ability to move quickly is kind of an advantage. I’ve learned pretty quickly that I can kind of use that over them and I can be an impact.”
Speed is the Americans’ identity and it was on display against a big Slovakia team that beat Russia in its opener. Slovakia got a goal when Andrej Kudrna tipped Tomas Surovy’s shot past Ryan Zapolski, which the U.S. goalie called a bad bounce. Bad bounces happened a few times to the U.S. against Slovenia, which wasn’t happy about the too many men on the ice call that preceded Donato’s second power-play goal. But the Americans showed resolve on a late penalty kill and the kids led the way.
“They’re great players,” 39-year-old captain Brian Gionta said. “They’re a big part of this team, like Coach said early on leading into the tournament that they were going to be a big part, and they are.
NOTES: F Chad Kolarik made his Olympic debut, replacing veteran Jim Slater in the U.S. lineup. ... David Leggio backed up Zapolski with Brandon Maxwell scratched. ... Notre Dame D Will Borgen was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.