USA Hockey fans at Fat Heads restaurant on the South Side were sporting their red, white and blue attire and chanting “USA! USA! USA!” all afternoon on Friday as Brooks Orpik
and the U.S. Men’s Olympic team gave their followers plenty to cheer about by torching Finland for six goals in the first 12:46 of the first period en route to a 6-1 victory and a berth in Sunday’s Gold Medal Game.
“It is good to see everybody come out here and support the country,” South Side resident Sam Gaudio said. “Brooksy is on the team, so you have a little bit of hometown pride. I think with their success they have garnered a little more interest.”
Patrick Kane scored twice, Upper St. Clair native Ryan Malone had a goal and an assist and Ryan Miller ran his shutout streak to 111:38 before giving way to Tim Thomas with 11:20 remaining in the third period to lead the way.
Team USA, which makes its first appearance in the championship game since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, will face the winner of Friday’s Canada-Slovakia semifinal at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday. The Americans will be looking to take home their first gold medal since the ‘Miracle on Ice’ team at Lake Placid in 1980.
The goals came at a fast and furious pace in the opening frame as the Americans struck just 2:04 into the contest and never looked back.
Team USA misfired on a pass ahead to Malone, but American forward Phil Kessel sprinted past the Finnish defense to towards the loose puck, forcing netminder Miikka Kiprusoff to come flying out of his net to play the puck – except his clearing attempt landed right onto the blade of Malone, who took advantage of the turnover and tossed a shot into the open cage to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead.
Another round of “USA! USA! USA!” broke out as the patrons at Fat Heads celebrated one of their own opening the scoring.
“That was great to see,” USA fan Amy Schmidt said of Malone’s goal. “I grew up in Mt. Lebanon, which is close to where he is from, so it is great to see. Having him score is something that is good for our city.”
The U.S. increased their lead on a power play at 13:38 when Paul Stastny slid a pass across the crease to a wide-open Zach Parise, who easily beat Kiprusoff for his third goal in the past two games.
An undisciplined Finland squad was forced to use their timeout at 8:36 of the opening period when a tenacious forecheck by Malone resulted in the Americans scoring again.
Malone outmuscled a Finnish defender to a dump into the offensive zone, allowing Joe Pavelski to pick up the biscuit and attempt a wraparound shot from the near corner. Kiprusoff made that save, but Erik Johnson pinched down from the right point and put the rebound past Kiprusoff’s arm to make it 3-0 in favor of Team USA.
Patrick Kane sent Kiprusoff to the showers 1:32 later when he backhanded the rebound of his own shot over a prone Kiprusoff for the first of his two tallies. Kiprusoff stopped only three of the seven shots he faced.
Nicklas Backstrom replaced Kiprusoff, but he was rudely welcomed to the crease thanks to another goal by Kane and Paul Stastny’s first tally of the tournament.
Kane finished off a two-one-one with Dustin Brown by rifling a perfect shot under the blocker of Backstrom at 12:31.
Stastny upped the Americans’ lead to 6-0 15 seconds later when he finished a gorgeous passing sequence. Parise moved the puck from the right corner to Jamie Langenbrunner in the near circle, and the U.S. captain quickly set Stastny up for a one-timer from eight feet away.
Following the opening period, fans were still in shock at how easily the Americans dominated the Finns.
“I expected more of an up-and-down game because the Finns play a dump-and-chase system relying on the forecheck much like the U.S. does,” Craig Renegan said. “I definitely didn’t expect six goals in the first 13 minutes.”
Miller continued his strong play between the pipes, stopping all 18 shots he faced before being replaced in favor of Thomas midway through the final period.
Finland would add a late power-play goal off the stick of Antti Miettinen late in the third period, but it was too little, too late as the Americans easily held on for the victory.
Once again the crowd at Fat Heads serenaded their hockey heroes, shouting one final “USA! USA! USA!” chant as the clock ticked down the final seconds.
“I think they needed to do that to win the game,” Gaudio said. “I think if they wouldn’t have then the Finns would have had a lot of confidence. Everybody was still doubting the U.S., so it was good to see them come in and prove the world wrong.”
“It was a good game,” Schmidt said. “We had a great start. Bugsy was there to put one in for us. I don’t think we should have come into this tournament as the underdogs everybody that they thought we were going to be. Now we can shine, so let’s see how we can do.”
In the immediate aftermath of defeating the Finns, fans couldn’t help but anticipate a Canada victory over the Slovaks later Friday night, setting up a highly-anticipated rematch between the U.S. and Canada in Sunday’s Gold Medal Game.
So, how would Pittsburgh fans respond to having to choose between their country on one side, and Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby
and Marc-Andre Fleury
on the other? Most say that would have to stick by their home country.
“I will go with America,” Schmidt said. “I love Sid and I love Fleury, but you have to go with the Americans.”
“My allegiance lies with the U.S.,” Renegan said. “I had a friend who was trying to buy a ton of Canadian jerseys but I am not wearing another country’s jersey. That is just a bad idea to me.”
We did find one fan who would choose Crosby over the U.S.
“I have to stick by Sidney,” Cathy Frontz said. “My parents’ (Dr. and Carrol Corrado of Uniontown, Pa) puppies are named ‘Sidney’ and ‘Crosby.’ I love (Team) USA, but Sidney Crosby
, go all the way!” "Sidney" and "Crosby" pose for a picture with the Stanley Cup. Special thanks to Rick and Cathy Frontz for sending us this picture.
Whatever you allegiance, a Gold Medal Game rematch between the United States and Canada would be one for the ages.