GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Troy Terry grew up watching Pavel Datsyuk play for the Detroit Red Wings.
Terry, a forward for US men’s Olympic hockey team and the University of Denver, even got to see the 14-year NHL veteran play in person once when the Colorado Avalanche hosted the Wings.
“He’s such a great player,’’ Terry said of the forward from Russia who scored 314 goals for Detroit. “He’s fun to watch. It’s going to be cool to be on the ice with him.’’
But Terry, 20, said he has to put that out of his mind and remind himself that he belongs in these Winter Olympics, the first Games without NHL talent in 24 years. Datsyuk, 39, is now an equal, and the competition as the US and the Russian team face off Saturday in their final contest of group play before seeding is decided for the elimination tournament.
“I think the more that we just kind of settle in and not make too big of a deal out of the game and just know that it’s another hockey game is the biggest thing for us,’’ Terry said after the Americans’ 2-1 victory over Slovakia on Friday, giving the US a 1-1 record and four points in the standings. Russia dominated Slovenia, 8-2, later Friday, giving the Russians three points and tying them with Slovakia for second in the group standings behind the Americans.
If the US beats Russia, in regulation or overtime, it will win the group and receive a bye into the quarterfinals. If Russia beats the US in regulation, it could have a shot at winning the group, pending the outcome of Slovakia-Slovenia. If Russia wins in overtime, it will tie the US in points with 5. If two teams are tied in points after group play concludes, the winner of the head-to-head matchup wins the group. If there is a three-way tie, however, this five-step tiebreaker is applied until there is no longer a tie.
US coach Tony Granato and a handful of his players acknowledged that the Russian team — officially called Olympic Athletes From Russia as a consequence of doping — will be coming in with extra motivation on Saturday after the Slovakians pulled out a 3-2 upset in their first game.
“They’re going to be angry,’’ Granato said. “They didn’t start the tournament the way they wanted to. We know they’ll be at their best.’’
After just five practices before their first game, the Americans have had to gel with each other fast and learn from their mistakes even quicker. They carried a 2-0 lead into the third period against Slovenia on Wednesday before allowing the Slovenians to tie it up late and eventually pick up an overtime victory. The US simply did not keep its energy up for all 60 minutes, forward Brian O’Neill said. Not the case on Friday against Slovakia.
“I think we just knew that we let off the gas there [in the first game] and were very conscious about that, so in the third period [against Slovakia], we made sure that we kept the shifts short, especially in the beginning of the period so we didn’t run out of energy,’’ said O’Neill.
The Americans also found success with their power play on Saturday with Harvard’s Ryan Donato scoring both of the team’s goals on the advantage. O’Neill said special teams are really important, but especially in this tournament, and goalie Ryan Zapolski said he has been impressed with what he has seen out of it so far.
“We move it really well, we get the looks that we want,’’ said Zapolski, who has a 94.0 save percentage through two games. “Guys are going to the net hard, so we make it tough on the goalie, take his eyes away, get the pucks to the net. It’s got to be pretty simple in a tournament like this. Just get the puck to the net.’’
O’Neill said he would like to see his team clean up around the net after getting 31 chances on goal against Slovakia, but converting only two.
“I think that’s pretty similar to a European style of game,’’ he said. “You look like you have the puck a lot, but you might not get as many Grade-A chances as you would think just because you’re possessing the puck, so I think we can learn from that too, get more bodies to the net, get more pucks to the net. So we got to be a little bit grittier in front of the net.’’
But as the Americans have begun to find their groove, they have started to utilize their identity: speed and quickness. The Russians boast size and strength. But Terry said if the Americans can turn the game into a track meet, it could cause some problems for the Russians.
“They may be bigger, but I think we have a really fast team here,’’ said Terry, who assisted Donato’s first goal Friday.
“I think you see that [speed] with me and Donato and [Mark] Arcobello. We can get up the ice really quick and transition quick and down low I think we’re doing really well possessing pucks, and it’s fun.’’