No NHL players? No problem. The United States men's hockey team played its tournament opener at the 2022 Winter Olympics Thursday morning, taking down China by a score of 8-0 to start their Olympic journey on a high note.
A win like this shouldn't come as much of a shock. China is widely considered the weakest team of the men's tournament, and it would have been a complete and total blunder had the U.S. not run them out of the building. But the Americans still needed to take care of business once the puck dropped, and they followed through.
The U.S. didn't exactly get off to a pristine start, though. In the first period, the Chinese managed to hang around and, at times, even generate a fair amount of pressure in the U.S. zone. Still, it was the Americans who took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission following a clapper from Vegas Golden Knights prospect Brendan Brisson on the power play.
While goals were hard to come by early on, it was a much different story in the middle period. The U.S. outshot the Chinese 16-6 in the second frame and increased their lead by three goals. Noah Cates scored the Americans' second goal off a gorgeous no-look feed from Sean Farrell behind the China net. Brian O'Neill, the lone returning men's hockey player from the PyeongChang Olympics, then scored a goal of his own, followed by an additional marker from Farrell.
Farrell continued his strong performance in the third period, netting his second goal and third point of the tilt to put the U.S. up 5-0. And if that wasn't enough, he completed the hat trick — the first by an American since Phil Kessel's in 2014 — late in the third period to put the U.S. up 8-0. The Montreal Canadiens prospect finished the contest leading the U.S. with a team-high five points.
U.S. netminder Drew Commesso became the youngest American goalie to ever play in an Olympic hockey game, and he put together quite a strong outing in his first action as an Olympian. He stopped all 29 shots fired in his direction and helped stave off a late China push to record the shutout. The 19-year-old's NHL rights are currently owned by the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted him in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
The U.S. will play its second game of the tournament Friday at 11:10 p.m. ET, and it comes against their bitter rivals from north of the border — Canada. The Canadians are fresh off a win of their own, taking down Germany by a score of 5-1 Thursday morning.