A strong start wasn’t quite enough for the U.S. men’s Olympic team to claim a win in its opener at the Winter Games Wednesday.
The Americans — who took a 2-0 lead early in the contest only to see it melt away in the second period — were forced to rally late to salvage a 3-3 tie against Latvia at the Palasport Olympico in Torino, Italy.
Down 3-2 after two periods of play, the U.S. got the tying goal from former Minnesota star and Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Jordan Leopold in the third. Former collegians accounted for all three U.S. goals in the contest.
Leopold, a native of Golden Valley, Minn., tied it up for good at 2:01 of the third period, when his drive from the point deflected off Latvian netminder Arturs Irbe’s pad and bounced over his head and into the net.
The play was set up by Craig Conroy (Clarkson) winning the draw back to Bret Hedican (St. Cloud State), who passed it back to Leopold at the point.
Hedican had been named to the U.S. team just over a week ago, as an injury replacement for Aaron Miller.
The United States stormed the Latvian goal down the stretch, putting 19 shots on net in the third period, but failed to get anything more past Irbe. For the game, the U.S. outshot Latvia, 42-25.
Team USA got on the board near the midway point of the first period as Boston College alum Brian Gionta took a pass in the high slot from former Michigan State Spartan John-Michael Liles and ripped a wrist shot over the right shoulder of Irbe.
The Americans then made it 2-0 when Conroy picked up a loose puck near center ice, skated into the zone and wristed a shot that glanced off Irbe and into the net.
But Latvia cut the lead in half at the 13:15 mark. U.S. netminder John Grahame — whose college goaltending came with Lake Superior State — blocked a shot from Sandis Ozolinsh. Unfortunately for the Americans, the rebound went right onto the stick of Aleksandrs Nizivijs, who tapped it home.
Latvia then scored two goals in a span of 44 seconds late in the second period to take a 3-2 lead into the locker room.
Atvars Tribuncovs’ wrist shot slid through a screen and inside the post to tie the score at 2, and Herberts Vasiljevs picked up a loose puck along the boards near center ice, skated into the U.S. zone and sent a wrist shot over Grahame’s shoulder and into the top corner of the net to give the Latvians the lead for the first time.
That set up Leopold’s tying goal, the only tally of the third frame.
Next up for Team USA is a matchup against Kazakhstan on Thursday at 3 p.m. EST at the Palasport Olympico. Kazakhstan lost to Sweden, 7-2, on Wednesday.