The U.S. got a new hero today as Phil Kessel scored the country’s first Olympic hat trick in 12 years to lead the Americans to a 5-1 victory over Slovenia, completing a sweep of Group A in the process.
Kessel and Toronto teammate James van Riemsdyk have clicked in the Olympics, but it was the third member of that line — San Jose’s Joe Pavelski — that set up all three of Kessel’s goals today.
Kessel now has a tournament-leading seven points through three contests.
America also got goals from Ryan McDonagh and David Backes as an incredible 10 different American players have found the back of the net this tournament. That’s four more than each of Sweden and Russia.
Although today’s final score was as lopsided (as expected) in a match between one of the world’s top hockey nations and a country with just one NHL player, there were patches of this game were Slovenia put pressure on America, especially in the first period. United States goaltender Ryan Miller, playing in his first contest of the tournament, had to work hard and came 17.6 seconds short of the shutout.
With this victory, the Americans have earned a bye past the qualification round, but they will have to wait for the outcome of the Canada-Finland to determine their exact seed.
If Finland or Canada win in regulation, then the United States will end up with the third seed, but if that game goes to overtime, then the Americans might move up to the second spot.
Given that the Slovenians managed to upset Slovakia, they have earned the eighth seed and will play Austria in the qualification round. Slovenia has already surpassed expectations for its first Olympic tournament, but it has a decent chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.