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Poor stretch, suspect goaltending dooms Canada in Olympic men's hockey loss to U.S.

BEIJING — Claude Julien had been pleased with Canada's performances from afar. He was less than thrilled by what he saw up close.
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Team United States forward Brendan Brisson (19) scores on Team Canada goaltender Eddie Pasquale (80) as Team Canada defender Alex Grant (20) defends during second period men's ice hockey action at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

BEIJING — Claude Julien had been pleased with Canada's performances from afar.

He was less than thrilled by what he saw up close.

Strauss Mann made 35 saves as the United States took advantage of a listless 20-minute stretch and some shaky Canadian goaltending Saturday to beat its North American rival 4-2 in men's hockey at the Beijing Olympics.

The 61-year-old Julien watched video of his team's practices as he recovered in Switzerland from a broken rib and punctured lung suffered in a sledding accident where he hit a tree during training camp.

Doctors eventually cleared the 2011 Stanley Cup winner before he boarded a flight to China and made a surprise return to the fold earlier this week.

Canada was a physical, grinding force in Thursday's 5-1 victory over Germany with its coach looking on from the stands, but couldn't do the same against a fast, skilled, young U.S. roster with plenty to prove.

"It wasn't our best," said Julien, whose team jumped out to an early lead, only to surrender the tying goal 70 seconds later. "Lost our momentum a little bit in that second half of the first. We came out in the second wanting to get our game back, but it took us another half period.

"That's where a lot of the damage got done."

Andy Miele, with a goal and an assist, Ben Meyers, Brendan Brisson and Kenny Agostino scored for the U.S. (2-0), which beat China 8-0 in its opener and sits in pole position for Group A's automatic quarterfinal berth.

Mat Robinson and Corban Knight replied for Canada (1-1). An unsteady Edward Pasquale made 23 saves in defeat.

"Fought the puck pretty much all night," said the 31-year-old reigning KHL goalie of the year. "Gave up two weak ones. If I make those two saves, we're 2-2 going into overtime."

The countries played for the first time at the Olympics since the 2014 semifinals when Canada's star-studded NHL roster ground out a 1-0 victory on the way to winning gold in Sochi.

"We didn't back down from their physical play," said Miele, the U.S. captain and one of the team's few veterans. "We took a beating ... we kept on coming back at them."

Canada closes out round-robin play Sunday against the Chinese, while the Americans will meet Germany.

Julien wouldn't tip his hand when asked if backup Matt Tomkins or Devon Levi, a star in the NCAA yet to dress in the tournament, will start in the second of a back-to-back.

But the coach was quick to deflect blame away from Pasquale in a game where Canada had too many passengers.

"We have to look at this loss collectively and not necessarily point the finger," Julien said. "For 20 minutes, I thought they really dominated us.

"That's not on Eddie. That's on the rest of us."

The NHL's decision to withdraw from the tournament because of COVID-19 concerns — the second time in as many Games the likes of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Auston Matthews have missed out — opened the door for both teams to bring some of its next generation.

The top-3 picks at the 2021 NHL draft played Saturday, with defenceman Owen Power (first overall, Buffalo Sabres) and forward Mason McTavish (third overall, Anaheim Ducks) in the lineup for Canada, while Matty Beniers (second overall, Seattle Kraken) suited up for the U.S.

The Canadians, who played their rivals in a controlled scrimmage earlier this week, brought a mix of youth and experience to China, including captain Eric Staal, while the Americans opted for a roster made up mostly of NCAA players.

U.S. defenceman and Ottawa Senators prospect Jake Sanderson, who tested positive for COVID-19 before the team departed Los Angeles and had to produce six negative results to be eligible, was in the lineup for the 12:10 p.m. local time Saturday — Friday night back home.

"The kids can play," said Agostino, another veteran U.S. forward. "It's clear we've got a lot of speed and a lot of talent.

"This was a man's game."

Canada opened the scoring at 1:24 of the first period when Robinson's shot from the sideboards somehow found its way past Mann, but the U.S. responded 1:10 later when Miele roofed a backhand shortside on his team's first shot.

The Canadians looked to keep up the physical play that had Germany on its heels, but the Americans were more than willing to push back at Beijing's National Indoor Stadium, which hosted artistic gymnastics, trampoline and handball at the 2008 Summer Games.

The U.S. then nudged in front with 1:16 left in the period when Montreal Canadiens draft pick Sean Farrell, who had three goals and two assists against China, faked a shot and fed Meyers for a 2-1 lead.

"We got a little surprised at different points," Canadian forward Josh Ho-Sang said. "They scored and we looked shocked. Then they scored again.

"I don't think there was one individual who doesn't think that they could have been better."

McTavish fired high on a 2-on-1 early in the second before a disastrous Pasquale miscue gifted the Americans a 3-1 advantage when Nick Shore stole the puck behind the net and fed Brisson in front at 2:37.

A dazed Canada finally responded with some quality shifts midway through the period, and Knight, who's third in KHL scoring, beat Mann shorthanded at 14:13.

The Canadians got their first power play late in the period, with Eric O'Dell tipping a Maxim Noreau shot off the crossbar and Ho-Sang unable to make good contact on a bouncing puck with Mann at his mercy.

The U.S. restored its two-goal lead at 6:13 of the third when Noreau turned the puck over inside his own blue line. Miele left it for Agostino, who blasted a shot that leaked through an unscreened Pasquale.

"It takes everybody ... we're all in this together," Staal said when informed Pasquale fell on his sword post-game. "We'll pick him up and pick each other up."

Canada, which won bronze at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, got a two-man advantage for 31 seconds with 4:37 left in regulation, but couldn't find a way past Mann, who responded after some early jitters, as the U.S. picked up a massive victory.

"Sometimes you ask your players to have short memories," Julien said. "That's what we have to have. At the same time, you've got to remember why we lost this game.

"And make sure it doesn't happen in the next one."

This report by The Canadian Press was first reported Feb. 12, 2022.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press