Russian Athletes Upset in 2018 Olympics Hockey Opener, Lose 3-2 to Slovakia

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2018

GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 14: Andrej Kudrna #18 of Slovakia competes for the pucka gainst Ivan Telegin #7 of Olympic Athlete from Russia in the second period during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group B game on day five of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics at Gangneung Hockey Centre on February 14, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Russian men's ice hockey team suffered a shocking defeat in its opening game at the 2018 Winter Olympics on Wednesday, as it fell 3-2 to Slovakia at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Slovak defenseman Peter Ceresnak broke a 2-2 tie with 11:30 remaining in regulation by blasting a slapshot past Russian netminder Vasili Koshechkin.

Olympic Athletes from Russia outshot Slovakia 22-19, but Slovak goaltender Branislav Konrad made 20 saves in the upset.

The Russian team appeared destined to be on the positive side of a rout in the early going, as Vladislav Gavrikov scored less than three minutes into the game, and Minnesota Wild forward prospect Kirill Kaprizov followed with a goal just over one minute later to make it 2-0.

Although Slovakia managed just four shots in the opening frame, it managed to even the score prior to the first intermission.

Former NHL forward Peter Olvecky scored on a weak shot with less than four minutes left in the first, and Martin Bakos followed that up with another goal at the 17:55 mark to make it 2-2.

James Ellingworth of the Associated Press noted that the Russian team's aura appeared to take a major hit during Slovakia's late-period comeback:

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The second period was essentially a holding pattern, with neither team managing to generate many quality scoring chances.

Ellingworth joked about the decidedly KHL flavor of the game since both the Russian team and Slovakia featured many players from the Russian league:

A major miscue by Russian forward Ivan Telegin led to what was eventually the game-winning goal for Slovakia in the third period.

With the puck on edge, Telegin attempted to clear it from his own zone, but he instead fired it into the crowd, which warranted a delay of game penalty.

Less than one minute later, Ceresnak scored on the power play to put the Slovaks ahead for the first time.

Ellingworth was blunt about the Russian team's fall from grace at that point:

Despite having a ton of firepower and several former NHL players, including Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, the Olympic Athletes from Russia could not find an equalizer.

Russia has underachieved in men's hockey at the Olympics for more than two decades, but OAR entered this year's tournament as a significant favorite.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports pointed out that the Russian team were still unable to take advantage of the low level of competition born from the NHL's decision not to participate:

TSN's Pierre LeBrun expressed excitement over what Slovakia's win means in terms of unpredictability in Pyeonghchang:

While OAR's skill level up front is undeniable, the defense corps is questionable, and the goaltending may be its Achilles' heel, as evidenced by Wednesday's loss.

There is still plenty of time to rebound, though, and the fact that every team advances past the group stage means the Russians are far from out of it.

The Russian team will look to get back on track Friday when it faces Slovenia, while Slovakia will take on the United States on Friday as well.