It was a day full of men’s hockey at the Sochi Winter Olympics, with Finland, Canada, Russia, and the US all protecting their gold medal aspirations with victories in their opening games.
Without further adieu here were the Three Stars of the day:
Third Star: Jamie Benn (Canada)
For a player who only played 2:54 during the second period, Benn was a huge catalyst as the Canadians finally got their offense going after a slow start.
On the first goal for the Canadian side, Benn got the puck behind the net, and when he drove to the front for a wraparound attempt, he was not only stopped by Norwegian goalie Lars Haugen, but he was also taken down with a trip to draw a penalty. The Canadians never did get the power play though, as Duncan Keith put the puck out to Shea Weber at the point, and the Nashville Predators captain didn’t miss as he blasted home a slapshot to make it a 1-0 game.
Benn was at it again later in the period as he gave the Canadian side some insurance. On a fantastic pass across the ice from Patrice Bergeron, Benn caught the puck in the high slot, deked a little bit, and snapped a wrister over Haugen’s glove and just under the crossbar to make it a 2-0 game.
The Canadians ended up going on to win 3-1, and even though his goal was the only point he got in the game, Benn was instrumental in his team’s triumph.
Second Star: Paul Stastny (United States)
Coming into the Olympics, one of the facets of Team USA that was under the most scrutiny was their lack of depth up the middle. Sure, they have guys like Ryan Kesler and Joe Pavelski that are solid players, but they really don’t have the kind of center presence that teams like Canada (Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby) or Sweden (Nicklas Backstrom) have.
Stastny must have heard those complaints, because he showed up in a big way for the US as they throttled Slovakia 7-1 on Thursday. He scored two goals in the game, and both of them came via the same trademark move: crashing the net.
The first came as a result of being in the right place at the right time. Ryan Callahan stole the puck in the offensive zone, and the US quickly converged on the net. Max Pacioretty got there first and put a shot on Jaroslav Halak, but he was stopped. Stastny came in a moment later and popped the rebound into the net to give the Americans a 3-1 edge.
Later in that second period, Stastny scored on the rush as the US engaged in some great transition offense. After Jonathan Quick made a couple of key saves at the other end, Kevin Shattenkirk showed off some of the speed that makes him one of the best young defensemen in the NHL, and he flew up the ice. Stastny was right on his heels, and peeled off as he got toward the net. He flipped a one-timer in past Halak after the pass, and it gave the US a 5-1 lead.
Both of those goals may be chalked up by some to Stastny being quick on the rush, but more importantly, he attacked the net with impunity in this one, and it led the US to a huge victory.
First Star: Mikael Granlund (Finland)
When the Finland side started off their game against Austria on Thursday morning, they didn’t exactly look good out of the gate. They gave up a quick goal to Michael Grabner just as everyone was settling into their seats, and they continued to play back on their heels as Austria continued to fire away.
Just about five minutes after Grabner gave his team the lead, Granlund and his Finnish teammates were able to seize momentum back. On a nice rush up the ice, Teemu Selanne knifed his way through the Austrian defense, and found Granlund open in the slot. Granlund then took advantage of a quasi-screen by an Austrian defender, and snapped a shot in between the legs of Bernhard Starkbaum to tie the game at 1-1.
Granlund later picked up an assist on Petri Kontiola’s second period goal, and scored another tally of his own in the third period on a late power play as the Finns beat Austria in an 8-4 romp. It was that early goal though that really set the tone for the Finnish offense, and really got them engaged as they bounced back from the early setback and dominated for the rest of the game.