SOCHI, Russia (AP) Phil Kessel scored two of his three goals in the opening 4:33 and became the first U.S. player with an Olympic hat trick in more than a decade, leading the Americans to a 5-1 win over Slovenia on Sunday.
The U.S. (3-0) earned an automatic spot in the quarterfinals.
Kessel scored 1:04 after the puck dropped, showing that the Americans didn’t have a hangover after their emotionally charged shootout win over Russia on Saturday. His third goal midway through the second period made him the first U.S. player to have a hat trick at the Olympics since John LeClair did it on Feb. 15, 2002, against Finland.
Ryan Miller was 17.6 seconds away from a shutout, but Marcel Rodman scored. Miller made 17 saves in his Sochi Games debut.
The 2010 silver-medal winner had plenty of support at the other end of the rink.
Ryan McDonagh scored about a minute after Kessel’s third goal to put the Americans up 4-0 in the second period and David Backes gave them a five-goal cushion early in the third.
Kessel is the first American with four goals in the three-game preliminary round at the Olympics since Bill Cleary and Roger Christian both pulled off the feat in 1960. Perhaps fittingly, the native of Madison, Wis., and his teammates were sporting throwback jerseys that Cleary and Christian wore with “USA” going from their right shoulder down to their left hip.
Slovenia (1-2) will play in the qualification-playoff round Tuesday.
Even if it doesn’t win another game, it has been a successful appearance for the country that earned a surprising spot in the Olympic hockey tournament for the first time.
Slovenia, whose only NHL player is Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, stunned Slovakia on Saturday.
But it was clear early on that Slovenia had no shot to beat a team that seems to be peaking at the right time.
It didn’t help Slovenia that it was without a key player. Forward Sabahudin Kovacevic was suspended for one game for swinging his left elbow and landing it on the head of Slovakia’s Tomas Kopecky.
Luka Gracnar made 23 saves for Slovenia.
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