Sochi, Russia • Bigger ice? Big deal. Twelve Olympic rookies? Not anymore.
Team USA roared out of the Olympic gate Thursday in a 7-1 thrashing of Slovakia to open the preliminary round of the men’s hockey tournament in front of 4,119 at Shayba Arena.
Across the street at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, host Russia struggled for two periods before vanquishing unheralded Slovenia. No apprehension against a weaker opponent for the poised United States, which battles the Russians on Saturday.
"We know how good they are," said U.S. captain Zach Parise. "They’re at home. They’ll have the whole building on their side and we know that. We’re excited about the game. I think it’s more important for us to play better next game than we did today."
Parise bemoaned defensive breakdowns that yielded several Slovakian odd-man scoring rushes on which they failed to capitalize. Still, it was an impressive debut for the Americans, most of whom are unfamiliar with playing on an international ice surface that is 15 feet wider.
They served notice with a six-goal second-period outburst that included three in a rapid-fire span of 1:47, banishing Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak to the bench in the process.
Paul Stastny scored a pair of goals. James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane and Max Pacioretty collected two assists apiece to pace the U.S. attack as 11 players recorded points.
Five are at the initial Olympics, including defenseman John Carlson, whose first-period rocket into the far corner took the edge off early.
"It thought it was fitting a young guy, first-timer, steps in and gets that first goal," said coach Dan Bylsma.
David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler and Kessel also scored.
"I think it gets the monkey off a few guys’ backs who were maybe a little apprehensive or nervous about the first Olympic experience," said Backes, of Minneapolis. "That’s a good thing to get out of the way and get your confidence going in the next game knowing we got four lines that can produce and at any given time we can get that goal that we need."
Jonathan Quick made 16 saves for the easy victory. Bylsma was noncommittal about whether he would come back with Quick against Russia or tap 2010 Olympic most valuable player Ryan Miller.
Quick’s only blemish was allowing Tomas Tatar’s goal 24 seconds into the second period, which tied the game 1-1. Slovakia’s momentum, however, was short-lived.
Kesler answered at 1:26 followed by Stastny’s first at 2:32 before the real fireworks started.
"A pretty convincing win makes it feel good," Parise said. "A lot of guys played with a lot of confidence. They played with a lot of poise, a lot of patience with the puck."
Slovakia figured to give the United States a much tougher challenge. The 2012 world champion silver medalists finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
It also boasts punishing defenseman Zdeno Chara and dynamic veteran forwards in Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus and Tomas Kopecky.
This also was Slovakia’s first Olympics since 1998 without Pavol Demitra, who died in a 2011 plane crash.
"We don’t have lots of big guys on the team," said Hossa. "But we have young players that can adjust and prove they’re good players."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.