The team in red, white and blue now has the easiest path to gold.
The young USA men’s hockey team held on to beat Germany 3-2 on Sunday night, finishing the preliminary round undefeated and earning the No. 1 seed in the knockout round at the Olympics. The Americans advance directly to the quarterfinals and then face the lowest remaining seed in the qualifying round.
Steven Kampfer scored on the power play less than three minutes after Germany took the lead, Matt Knies put the United States ahead and Drew Commesso made 24 saves for his second win in as many starts. After Tom Kuhnhackl scored for Germany with 2:29 left, Nathan Smith’s goal early in the third period proved to be the game-winner.
It was a tougher match than expected against the defending silver medalists, who beat China two nights after the United States eliminated the hosts 8-0. Even more than the matchup against Canada, tensions boiled over between the United States and Germany with bench-to-bench shouting and more than the usual amount of scrums after the whistle.
Through it all, USA took care of business against a less talented but hardworking opponent and became the only team to win all three group stage games in regular time.
Second-seeded Finland, third-seeded Russia and fourth-seeded Sweden also advance to the quarter-finals. Finland erased a three-goal deficit to beat Sweden 4-3 in extra time and move ahead of their rivals in the standings.
Finland’s return knocked Canada out of the top four. The fifth-seed Canadians will face China again in the qualifying round on Tuesday, a rematch of Canada’s 5-0 win on Sunday.
Sixth-seeded Denmark will face 11th-seeded Latvia, seventh-seeded Czech Republic will face 10th-seeded Switzerland and eighth-seeded Germany will face ninth-seeded Slovakia first in the series. NHL Draft eligible Juraj Slafkovsky, 17, scored his fourth goal to help Slovakia beat Lativa 5-2 for their first Olympics victory.
As the No. 1 seed, the United States can avoid the Russians, defending champions and pre-tournament favorites, and the impressive Finns until the gold medal match.
The Americans improved to 3-0-0 despite playing their second game without defenseman Jake Sanderson, who was injured in the first period against Canada on Saturday but finished that game. Sanderson also missed the opener against China as virus testing issues left him in Los Angeles while the rest of the squad traveled to Beijing.
USA Hockey listed Sanderson on the day-to-day. It was not immediately clear whether he was in danger of missing out on Wednesday’s quarter-finals.
NOTES: Defenseman Drew Helleson has returned to the lineup to replace Sanderson. … St. Cloud State forward Sam Hentges made his Olympic debut as a replacement for Boston College’s Marc McLaughlin. … Danny aus den Birken started in goal for Germany with No.1 goalkeeper Mathias Niederberger taking time off – aus den Birken was the starter when Germany reached the final in Pyeongchang in 2018.
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