“It was a knuckle-puck, and from a pretty long way away,” said Zapolski, whom Granato confirmed would remain the United States starter moving forward. “The two other goals were really good shots. Good players are able to score goals like that, and those are some of their better players, so they found a way to score.”
This night lacked the tense political subtext of the Cold War from their 1980 meeting, the pomp and circumstance of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russian attending and the pressure on the home team in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, but it had the same kind of in-arena atmosphere.
American and Russian fans filled Gangneung Hockey Centre and went back and forth with “U-S-A” and the “ROSS-I-YA” chants that made up the background noise at the Olympics four years ago.
Entering the game, the Russians looked as if they had better players than the United States, and that showed in each team’s final preliminary-round game. The United States college players who shined in the first two games engaged in the physical play against the Russians but couldn’t make an impact on the score sheet.
“They’ve got a really good group over there, but I’m really confident in our squad,” forward Jordan Greenway said. “There’s things we’ve got to work on, mistakes we’ve got to learn from in this game. I’m sure we’ll see them again later in the tournament, and I think the outcome will be a lot different.”
The United States rarely generated the kind of quality scoring chances against Vasily Koshechkin that the Russians did around Zapolski, who played all three preliminary-round games. Koshechkin stopped all 29 shots he faced for his first shutout of the tournament, and the Russians flexed their muscles offensively.
“We played well,” Kovalchuk said. “We came out strong, we scored first goal, then our goalie make some great saves.”