It has become customary to watch NHL players in the Olympics. Since the 1998 Nagano Games, the world's best hockey players meet every four years in the ultimate display of national pride and for international bragging rights. The Olympic tournament has united nations and vindicated others torn apart. This time, it's a group of underdogs that will attempt to write another chapter into USA Hockey lore.

In the absence of the NHL, which chose not to send players to Pyeongchang, the U.S. men's national team is comprised of outcasts. Many spent stints in the NHL — five games here, 10 more there — before turning to a journeyman career in European leagues. In four cases, players were pulled from their NCAA teams and classes to compete for their country, hearkening to the most famous of U.S. Olympic triumphs: the 1980 "Miracle on Ice."

“To win, we don’t need a miracle,” Team USA head coach Tony Granato said. “We need to be our best and play our best.”

Granato, a longtime coach in the U.S. National Development Program, himself departed his job at the University Wisconsin to lead the Americans, who hold the sixth-best odds (10-1) to win their first gold medal since that 1980 team. That's a longshot compared to USA's usual powerhouse status. Instead of Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews, the U.S. is led by captain Brian Gionta and a cast of former NHLers, including Chris Bourque, Mark Arcobello and James Wisniewski among them.

The Olympic Athletes from Russia contingent, assembled despite the country's doping ban from the 2018 Games, is favored to win the tournament and represent the U.S.'s toughest opponent in group play. The other two members of Group B are Slovakia and Slovenia, the United States' first opponent. All 12 teams advance to the single-elimination portion of the tournament, but group play determines seeding; the winner of each group, plus the highest ranking runner-up, earn a first-round bye.

Slovenia, playing in its second Olympic hockey tournament ever, boasts just one player with NHL experience: forward Jan Mursak.
Granato kept Team USA's starting goalie under wraps much of a lead-up to the Games, but on Tuesday gave Ryan Zapolski the nod in net for the opener. Zapolski, 31, has appeared in 38 games with Jokerit of the KHL this season, sporting a 1.73 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

USA vs. Slovenia live score updates


Time: 7:10 a.m. ET
Location: Kwandong Hockey Centre