Phil Kessel scores 3 to help US rout Slovenia 5-1

Phil Kessel scores 3 to help US rout Slovenia 5-1 (Image 1)
Phil Kessel scores 3 to help US rout Slovenia 5-1 (Image 1)

Phil Kessel scored two of
his three goals in the opening five minutes and became the first U.S.
player to record an Olympic hat trick in more than a decade, leading the
Americans to a 5-1 win over Slovenia on Sunday.

The U.S. is
undefeated through three games in the men's hockey tournament at the
Sochi Games and with Sunday's win earned an automatic spot in the
quarterfinals.

“The most important thing is getting the win,” Kessel said. “We just gotta keep improving and keep winning games.”

Kessel
scored 1:04 after the puck dropped, removing any thought the Americans
would have a hangover after their emotionally charged shootout win
against Russia on Saturday. His third goal midway through the second
period made him the first U.S. player to score a hat trick at the
Olympics since John LeClair did it on Feb. 15, 2002, against Finland.

Slovenia's
Marcel Rodman scored with 17.6 seconds left in the game, denying U.S.
goalie Ryan Miller a shutout. Miller made 17 saves in his Sochi debut.

“Yeah, I definitely had some nerves,” Miller said. “It was an important game to ensure that we're at the top of our pool.”

With plenty of support at the other end of the rink, the 2010 silver medal winner didn't need to worry.

Ryan
McDonagh scored about a minute after Kessel's third goal to put the
Americans up 4-0. David Backes gave them a five-goal cushion early in
the third.

Kessel is the first American to score four goals in the
three-game preliminary round of the Olympic tournament since Bill
Cleary and Roger Christian in 1960. Fittingly, the native of Madison,
Wis., and his teammates were sporting throwback jerseys in the style
Cleary and Christian wore at the games in Squaw Valley — “USA” from
right shoulder to left hip.

Luka Gracnar made 23 saves for Slovenia, who play in the qualification-playoff round Tuesday after beating Slovakia and losing to the U.S. and Russia.

Even
if Slovenia don't win another game, it has been a successful appearance
for a country that earned a surprising spot in the Olympic hockey
tournament for the first time.

Slovenia has just one NHL player,
Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, and he didn't finish Sunday's
game with flu-like symptoms, according to his father and coach, Matjaz
Kopitar.

“He don't feel good, because he has something with the
stomach,” Matjaz Kopitar said. “He didn't feel well. He was without the
power. Hopefully, he's going to be better.”

Slovenia was also
without another key player, forward Sabahudin Kovacevic, who was
suspended for one game for swinging his left elbow and landing it on the
head of Slovakia's Tomas Kopecky.

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