U.S. advances to qualifying round

Updated: April 28, 2004, 6:35 PM ET
Associated Press

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- The United States routed Ukraine 7-1 behind Blake Sloan's two goals Wednesday to advance to the qualifying round at the hockey world championships.

With its first win in the preliminary round, the Americans avoided an embarrassing repeat of last year's showing in Finland, where they failed to advance and wound up 13th in the 16-team tournament.

"We did a good job of skating," U.S. coach Peter Laviolette said. "That was the first and foremost thing on our list. We needed to skate, we needed to put the puck behind them."

In other games, Dany Heatley scored twice to lift Canada over Switzerland 3-1 and to the top of Group D. The Swiss are in third place, behind Austria. In Group C, six different players scored to give Russia a 6-1 victory over Japan.

In Group A, Jaromir Jagr sparked a late four-goal flurry, lifting host Czech Republic to a 5-1 win over Germany. Marian Gaborik and Miroslav Satan each scored twice to help 2002 champions Slovakia a 5-2 victory over Finland in Group B.

The United States finished third in Group B in the preliminary round. Slovakia was first with five points, and Finland was second with four.

The Americans play Sweden in their first qualifying round match Friday.

Winless Ukraine dropped to the relegation round with France, Kazakhstan and Japan.

Sloan, a defenseman for the Dallas Stars, opened the scoring at 8:43 in the first period in Ostrava. His other goal, at 14:28 in the second period, made it 5-0.

Ryan Malone of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Richard Park of the Minnesota Wild, Paul Mara of the Phoenix Coyotes, Keith Ballard of Minnesota, the only college player on the team, and Mike Grier of the Buffalo Sabres scored the other goals for the United States.

Malone, Park and Mara notched three straight power-play goals after Sloan's opening score.

"I think our power play was probably the best it's been in the three games that we've had so far," Laviolette said. "I think the biggest thing for me as a coach is that I can see our team taking small steps in the right direction."

Roman Salnikov spoiled Mike Dunham's shutout bid just 38 seconds before the end, scoring on a power play with Sloan serving a holding-the-stick penalty.

Ukraine coach Oleksandr Seukand, whose team needed a win to avoid the relegation round, said his players were "burned out" after losing to Slovakia 2-0 and Finland 5-1.

In Prague, Canada produced its best game of the tournament.

"Our physical side kind of took over," Danny Briere said. "In the first period they came out strong but we kept coming at them."

Brendan Morrison scored on a wraparound for Canada's other goal. Marcel Jenni had Switzerland's only goal. Canada goaltender Roberto Luongo made 21 saves, while Swiss goalie Martin Gerber was peppered with 31 shots.

"Our coach, Mike Babcock, knows Gerber pretty well -- he's had him all season with the Ducks,'' Morrison said. "So he gave us tips. We talked about the wraparound between periods. I guess I was listening."

Jenni ruined Luongo's shutout bid with less than seven minutes remaining.

"We're getting better every game," Morrison said. "We knew we had to get going, to take the initiative and not just wait for something to happen."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press