Team USA Men's Hockey On Track For First Gold Medal Since 1980 After Slovakia Win

The U.S. men’s hockey team took another step towards its first Winter Olympics gold medal in 38 years after sweeping Slovakia aside 5-1 in the quarter final playoff.

After a goalless first 20 minutes, second-period strikes from Ryan Donato, James Wisniewski and Mark Arcobello saw the U.S. race into a 3-0 lead against a side it had beaten 2-1 in the group stage last week.

Slovakia pulled one back shortly before the second interval, but Garret Roe and Donato found the net twice in the final period to secure a quarter final berth against the Czech Republic.

“We’ve had a lot of chances that we didn’t score on,” Donato said, the Associated Press reported.

GettyImages-921083340 Team USA celebrates after winning the men's quarterfinals playoffs ice hockey match against Slovakia. Getty Images

“Just having the chemistry build and continue to build, it feels really good.”

The five-goal haul meant the U.S. scored more against Slovakia than it had in three group stage games combined, while at the other end Ryan Zapolski stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced.

The win put Tony Granato’s men a step closer to reclaim that elusive gold medal that has evaded the U.S. since the “Miracle on Ice” at the Lake Placid games in 1980, when the team defied all the odds by beating the Soviet Union in the first game of the medal round, before clinching the top spot on the podium by beating Finland two days later.

As was the case in Lake Placid, the U.S. team in Pyeongchang does not include any NHL players, after the league announced in April last year that it would not release its players to take part in the Olympics. Still, the lack of NHL stars has not troubled Team USA yet.

"All the college kids have been huge for us," Zapolski, who plies his trade in Finland, told ESPN. "Those kids are special players, and they bring a lot of enthusiasm and energy. They're fun to be around. They're not overtaken by this moment, and it's good to see."

Since the heroics in 1980, Olympic medals have proved frustratingly hard to come by for the U.S., which has reached the final only twice in the intervening 38 years, with both appearances coming after the NHL first allowed its players to compete in 1998.

However, in both occasions, in Salt Lake City in 2002 and in Vancouver in 2010, Team USA fell against Canada at the final stage.

The Canadians, winners in three of the last four Olympics, went straight into the quarter finals by virtue of topping their group and will play the winner of the match between Finland and South Korea.

Before the U.S. can harbour any dreams of revenge against its North American neighbors, however, it must focus on the upcoming clash against the Czechs on Wednesday.

The Czechs, who are themselves looking for a first Olympic medal since the bronze they claimed in Turin in 2006, have played a game less than the U.S. after winning Group A and qualifying directly for the quarters.