BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States may insist there is no replacing fallen star Brianna Decker but did a convincing job proving otherwise in Saturday’s gritty 5-0 win over the Russian Olympic Committee.
Assistant captain Decker left the Americans’ opening game in Beijing on Thursday early in the first period after a collision behind the net with a Finnish player left her screaming in pain. The team later confirmed she would be out for the remainder of their Olympic title defence.
“From the beginning our biggest two words have been ‘adjust and adapt’,” forward Grace Zumwinkle told reporters after scoring her first Olympic goal.
“She’s obviously a huge part of this team but we’re going to rally around her and come out stronger because of it.”
While no Olympian is safe from the potential heartbreak of competition-ending injury, Decker’s departure from the ice hit the unbeaten U.S. particularly hard, even providing extra motivation as tempers flared against the ROC.
“I’m not sure there’s any overcoming (losing Decker),” said Savannah Harmon, who converted a powerplay chance in the opening period.
“Today we were definitely playing with an extra chip on our shoulder just for her, doing whatever we can to make her proud.”
U.S. head coach Joel Johnson moved Olympic newcomer Abby Roque into the centre position on Saturday but said he was still weighing up formations for the next matches against Switzerland and arch-rivals Canada.
He also confirmed that Decker was still in Beijing, providing moral support and the expertise of two previous Olympics to her team.
“There’s no replacing Brianna Decker with one individual player but we can replace her and what she does well with a lot of different people,” he told reporters.
“The really key thing for us is Brianna’s still here, she’s still leading, she’s still a huge influence on the team.”
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in Beijing; additional reporting by Steve Keating editing by Ed Osmond)