Youthful U.S. men’s hockey team breezes past China to win Olympic opener

A hockey game between the U.S. and China
U.S. forward Brendan Brisson (19) battles China’s Wei Ruike (Ethan Werek) for the puck during the United States’ 8-0 preliminary round win at the Beijing Olympics on Thursday.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

There were a lot of unknowns surrounding a young, largely untested U.S. men’s hockey team heading into its first game at the Beijing Olympics.

At least a few of those questions got answered Thursday night.

It took awhile for the Americans to get started, but they found their rhythm and earned some valuable experience in an 8-0 victory against overmatched China in group play at the National Indoor Stadium.

“We proved to ourselves that we can be a really good team,” said Sean Farrell, who scored a hat trick in his Games debut at 20 years old. “We’ve got some things to work on … but we know we’re going to be a high-powered team.”

With an average age in the early 20s, the U.S. struggled at first against a Chinese team that was making its first appearance in the Olympics but played tough. Midway through a sluggish first period, Brendan Brisson — a Manhattan Beach native drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights — grabbed a loose puck in front of the net and scored a power-play goal to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead. That was where things stood for a while.

“We were physical,” China forward Ye Jinguang said. “We took care of the puck early.”

But the Americans settled down in the second period, maintaining possession in their offensive zone, getting to most of the loose pucks and never giving the Chinese much breathing room.


The result was three unanswered goals. Noah Cates started with a no-look pass from Farrell for a goal. Brian O’Neill poked a shot past China’s goaltender, Jieruimi Shimisi, and Farrell got his first of three to make the score 4-0.

China, its roster constructed largely of North American players with Chinese heritage — and reconfigured Chinese names — had a few scoring chances but was never able to climb back.

Though a decent-sized crowd — by COVID-19 standards — continued to cheer for the home team, waving Chinese flags, Ferrell finished off his big night in a third period that tilted further and further toward the Americans’ favor.

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With 15 players on the roster still in college, the U.S. is banking on youthful legs and some luck to get through a tournament whose talent level changed dramatically when the NHL pulled its players, citing the need to make up for COVID-related postponements in its league schedule.

The Americans’ next game is against Canada on Friday.

“It’s only going to get tougher against Canada, a big rivalry game,” O’Neill said. “I’m sure they’re going to be really physical so it’s good for us to get our feet wet in the physicality early in the tournament.”