Analysis

Underdogs rise to the occasion in Olympic men's hockey

If you needed any proof the men's Olympic hockey tournament was going to be a wild and wide-open affair, all you had to do was tune in to the six-plus periods on opening day in South Korea on Wednesday. Simply put, Pyeongchang was upset city.

Slovenia, Slovakia rattle off upset wins over Americans, Russians

Goaltender Ryan Zapolski, reacts with teammates Ryan Donato, and Matt Gilroy, as Jan Mursak (39), of Slovenia, celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal during overtime in Gangneung, South Korea, on Wednesday. (Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press)

By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

If you needed any proof the men's Olympic hockey tournament was going to be a wild and wide-open affair, all you had to do was tune in to the six-plus periods on opening day in South Korea on Wednesday.

Pyeongchang was upset city. The tournament-favourite Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) were shocked 3-2 by Slovakia and the United States were surprised 3-2 in overtime by the small country of Slovenia.

There already was plenty of intrigue in this tournament with the best players in the world from the NHL staying back in North America. But now the interest level is off the charts.

In both games, OAR and the United States built 2-0 leads only to see their underdog foes come roaring back to win.

VIDEO | Slovakia upsets tournament favourites Olympic Athletes from Russia:

[VIDEO src="51340"]

OAR was ahead by two goals before the game was four minutes and eight seconds old. But the Slovakians slowly gathered themselves and tied the game before the first intermission.

Former Peterborough Petes defenceman Peter Ceresnak scored the decisive goal midway through the third period. The Slovaks had to close the deal with two more penalty kills in the final 10 minutes.

PK perfection

You could see the influence of head coach Craig Ramsay on his Slovakia team. During his playing career with the Buffalo Sabres, Ramsay was one of the best penalty killers in the league. Slovakia went a perfect five-for-five in man-short situations.

OAR only outshot the Slovaks 22-19. They failed to play as a unit and other than Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk didn't have much of an attack. Vasily Koshechkin also failed to make a key stop to help bail out his uninspired teammates.

VIDEO | Slovenia completes upset over USA with overtime win:

[VIDEO src="51321"]

Slovenia was a surprise team in Sochi four years ago. But Anze Kopitar was a determined leader who pushed the upstart country into the quarter-finals.

Kopitar, however, has been temporarily replaced as the country's new hockey hero by right wing Jan Mursak. The former Belleville Bulls forward tied the game with 97 seconds and then scored the OT winner 38 seconds into the extra period.

The 30-year-old Mursak was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the sixth round (182nd overall) in 2006. But after playing only 46 games with Datsyuk and the Red Wings over parts of five seasons and winning a Calder Cup championship with the 2012-13 Grand Rapids Griffins, Mursak decided to return to Europe to continue his career.

He played in the Olympics four years ago for his country and now has his team headed in the right direction for a quarter-final berth once again.

Canadians open against familiar foes

Meanwhile, it's the Canadians turn to deal with opening-game jitters on Thursday when they take on Switzerland (7:10 a.m. ET).

The Swiss are familiar foes for Canada. Most recently, a version of this Canadian group defeated the Swiss national team 3-0 in the Spengler Cup final on Dec. 31. Canada also defeated Switzerland 3-2 in the opening game of the Karjala Cup in mid-November.

Bragging rights are at stake For Canadian forwards Andrew Ebbett and Mason Raymond as well as defenceman Maxim Noreau. They will face eight of their SC Bern teammates on the Swiss national team.

SC Bern has won back-to-back Swiss National League A titles and is poised for a third, having already clinched the regular season championship.

Canada will play an up-tempo, physical, four-line, short-shift style of game. The players have seemed to grasp what head coach Willie Desjardins has preached since this group assembled for training camp in Riga, Latvia, on Jan. 29.

The Canadians defeated Sweden 4-1 in their final tune-up game on Sunday. Canada exhibited a tremendous work ethic and was physical. Ben Scrivens and Kevin Poulin were also excellent in goal for Canada.

It will be the talkative 31-year-old Scrivens from Spruce Grove, Alta. who will start for Canada against Switzerland. The Cornell-educated Scrivens is a smart man and he doesn't need to be reminded that he can't afford a clunker against Switzerland because as we learned on the opening day of the men's tournament, anything can happen.

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