Three decades after Mark Johnson scored two goals in the Miracle on Ice, the U.S. women's coach just wanted a comfortable win to celebrate his return to Olympic hockey.
Johnson didn't want an embarrassment for their Chinese opponents — and that's why the Americans posted a blowout that stopped short of a wholesale beatdown.
Jenny Potter scored three goals in the first 22 minutes while becoming the leading scorer in U.S. Olympic history, and the Americans opened the preliminary round of the women's tournament with a 12-1 romp over China on Sunday.
Meghan Duggan scored twice for the Americans, who got the expected result when a seasoned power takes on a developing team. China has never beaten the United States in 20 tries over nearly two decades, losing by an identical score in Salt Lake City.
Yet the Americans didn't match Canada's 18-0 rout of Slovakia on Saturday, in part because they cycled the puck and remained patient for scoring chances after taking a 7-0 lead early in the second period. With an all-out offensive blitz at UBC Thunderbird Arena, the Americans might have been able to run up the score in pursuit of a huge goal differential — but without criticizing Canada, they chose not to do it.
"I get uncomfortable when the score gets too lopsided," Johnson said. "I've been on the other end of that too many times. It can be a difficult balancing act. You certainly want to respect your opponent and the hard work they did to get here. At some point it becomes uncomfortable, so you try to do the things that make the team stronger, get something out of the game, and move on."
Potter scored five points while notching her first Olympic hat trick, and fellow four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero scored the first goal in the avalanche in front of a crowd including Vice President Joe Biden, Salt Lake City Games executive Mitt Romney and 1980 U.S. hockey captain Mike Eruzione.
China got its own minor miracle on ice with 2:21 left when Jin Fengling scored on a power play threading a backhand through traffic past backup goalie Brianne McLaughlin. Jin triumphantly slapped her stick on the ice, and the sympathetic crowd loved it.
"I think we did a good job playing our game, but at the same time keeping sportsmanship in mind," said U.S. captain Natalie Darwitz, who had a goal and two assists. "You don't want to run up the score. I think you saw us pull back and cycle the puck a bit instead of shooting every time, but you don't want to get into bad habits, either."
Although the Chinese team skates better than the Slovaks and is much improved from Turin after four more years of international competition, the Americans still were far too much for the club led by Finnish coach Hannu Saintula. They outshot China 61-7, scoring five goals in the first period and rarely even allowing a potential scoring rush by the Chinese, who got 49 saves from goalie Shi Yao.
"If we looked at only the result, then maybe the confidence is not so good," Saintula said. "But we have to look at how we made the little things a bit better."
The tournament is unlikely to have another blowout of the last two games' magnitude. China and Slovakia are the field's weakest teams, with Switzerland, Russia, Sweden and Finland all fielding competitive rosters with years of international experience.
"Hopefully in a couple of days there will be close games, and we don't have to talk about this," Darwitz said.
But the American stars capitalized on a chance to pad their stats — with a little restraint.
With a power-play goal early in the second period, Potter passed Katie King for the overall U.S. lead in Olympic scoring. The mother of two from Minnesota has eight goals and 18 assists in Olympic play.
"It's pretty special and I'm humbled, but it doesn't mean much compared to a gold medal," Potter said. "We were trying to move the puck around and make smart plays. You don't want to embarrass anybody."
NOTES: Molly Schaus played the first 52 minutes in goal before McLaughlin relieved. Jessie Vetter is expected to be the U.S. goalie in its biggest games. ... F Erika Lawler was shaken up by a spill into the boards midway through the second period, but stayed on the bench for the third to support her teammates. The diminutive Lawler, who played for Johnson at the University of Wisconsin, expects to play Tuesday against Finland.