Sochi, Russian Federation (4E Sports) – Phil Kessel recorded a hat trick as the United States earned an automatic bye into the quarterfinal with a 5-1 victory over Slovenia in the men’s hockey event of the Sochi Winter Games at Shayba Arena.
Kessel, whose hat trick was the first by an American player in the Olympics since John LeClair in 2002, helped the United States finish the preliminary round on top of Group A with eight of a possible nine points. The Americans will face the winner of the showdown between Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Kessel now leads the tournament with seven points (four goals, three assists). Joe Pavelski assisted on all of Kessel’s goals.
“The speed and the shot from the player is elite,” US coach Dan Bylsma said of Kessel. “He can put teams in trouble with that speed and to finish it with the shot that he has, it’s one of the more dangerous weapons out there.”
Despite the loss, the Slovenians finished third in Group A with three points and eighth in the preliminary round thanks in part to their seminal win against Slovakia Saturday. They will play Austria in the qualification round Tuesday.
Kessel scored twice within the first 4:33 of the game to give the Americans a 2-0 cushion. He completed his hat trick 11:05 into the second period, and Ryan McDonagh scored 72 seconds later to put any comeback plans Slovenia might have had to rest. David Backes added a goal 3:26 into the third period.
Ryan Miller, who was the backup to Jonathan Quick in the Americans’ first two games of the tournament, finished with 17 saves but lost his shutout bid with 17.6 seconds left in his first Olympic action since the gold-medal game in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Meanwhile, Drew Doughty’s goal at 2:32 of overtime gave Canada a 2-1 win against Finland and a bye into the quarterfinals.
After the preliminary round, Sweden clinched the No. 1 spot followed by the United States. Canada, the winner of Group B, is seeded third while Finland notched the final bye into the quarterfinals.
The remaining eight teams play Tuesday in elimination games to determine the other four quarterfinalists. There are no games Monday.
Russia finished fifth and will play an elimination game Tuesday against Norway. Slovenia finished eighth and will play the ninth-place team, Austria. Latvia finished 11th and will play Switzerland.
The winners of games Tuesday will advance to the quarterfinals Wednesday. The winner of the Slovenia-Austria game will play Sweden while the winner of the Switzerland-Latvia clash will play Canada. Finland will play the winner of the Russia-Norway showdown.
On the women’s side, Finland defeated Germany, 2-1, to clinch a place in the fifth-place game against Russia, which defeated Japan, 6-3.
The loss relegated the Germans to the seventh-place game against the Japanese.