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Mens' Hockey: U.S., Canada in dream men's hockey matchup today

Sunday, February 24, 2002

By Alan Robinson, The Associated Press

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- For three periods, two hours and one history-making afternoon, it will be bigger than Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.


Scouting Report

Matchup: United States (4-0-1) vs. Canada (3-1-1), 3 p.m., E Center, West Valley City, Utah.
Probable goaltenders: Mike Richter for United States, Martin Brodeur for Canada.
United States: LW John LeClair leads tournament with six goals. ... Richter has stopped 85 of 89 shots for .957 save percentage. ... Have scored power-play goal in every game, going 7 for 21 with man-advantage for 33.3 percent success rate.
Canada: Line of C Mario Lemieux, LW Steve Yzerman, RW Paul Kariya has half of 12 goals scored by team's forwards. ... D Al MacInnis, game's most feared shooter, has no goals on 14 shots. ... Brodeur has 1.75 goals-against average in four games since taking starting job from Curtis Joseph.
Hidden stat: The United States is 21-0-3 on home ice dating to the second game of the 1932 Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y.

Bold Predictions

Some members of the Penguins pick the winner of the Olympic gold-medal game today between the United States and Canada.

LW Jan Hrdina (Czech Republic): Canada, 3-2. "It's going to be decided by one goal, a lucky bounce or something.
RW Aleksey Morozov (Russia): United States, 4-1 (including empty-net goal). "The U.S. has played really well the whole tournament."
C Kris Beech (Canada): Canada, 3-2. "They have more composure than the U.S."
LW Toby Petersen (United States): United States, 3-2. "Herb Brooks hasn't lost as an Olympic coach, and we're on American soil, where the U.S. team hasn't lost [since the 1932 Lake Placid Games]."
D Hans Jonsson (Sweden): United States, 3-2. "It's going to be a tie, like 1-1 or 2-2, then the U.S. is going to beat them in overtime."
RW Eric Meloche (Canada): Canada, 3-1 (including empty-net goal). "Team USA's strong, but they have a little more pressure than Team Canada."
Assistant coach Joe Mullen (United States): United States, 4-2. "It's going to be a one-goal game, and an empty-net goal."


With national pride and a gold medal at stake, it will be bigger than hockey itself.

Canada and the United States play today in the final on the last day of the Winter Olympics, drawing all eyes from bordering countries divided by patriotic loyalties but drawn together by one sport.

Americans and Canadians go at each other nightly in NHL arenas from Vancouver to Miami, but this, of course, will be much different.

"This is the greatest thing that has happened for a long, long time," Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky said yesterday. "This will be the most-watched hockey game in the world -- ever."

For Canadians, who invented hockey and follow it with an unmatched passion and loyalty, this could be the game they have awaited since 1952, the last time the Maple Leaf wore the Olympic gold medal.

For the United States, it is an opportunity to relive the golden sports moment that perhaps lives with Americans more than any other -- Coach Herb Brooks' 1980 Olympic team's seemingly impossible gold medal. The United States hasn't won a medal of any color since.

That Brooks is again behind the bench, unbeaten in the Olympics (10-0-2), only adds another extraordinary story line to a game that needs nothing other than the opposing jerseys to sell it.

"It's great that it's Canada and the United States," U.S. defenseman Brian Leetch said. "It makes for a great story. It's perfect. It's what everyone was hoping for."

Everyone except those from Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic. For the NHL, it could be a windfall, the once-in-a-generation game that compels people who otherwise would never watch a hockey game to turn on their TVs.

One of the intriguing aspects of the biggest Canada-U.S. hockey game since the Americans' 2-1 Olympic upset in 1960 is how it divides NHL teammates, coaches and even owners.

Team Canada captain Mario Lemieux, for example, also owns the Penguins -- who employ Brooks, their interim coach two years ago, as a scout.

"I wrote him last year after he came back to play and said, 'Whatever you do, don't play for Canada in the Olympics,' " Brooks said. "He didn't listen to me."

Opposing goaltenders Martin Brodeur of Canada and Mike Richter live but a few minutes apart outside New York City. Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman play for Canada and Chris Chelios and Brett Hull play for the United States, but all four will be Detroit Red Wings teammates again tomorrow.

"But we'll just see the jersey," Chelios said. "And we'll go out and play."

And U.S. defenseman Tom Poti said: "We grow up pretty much hating each other. From the time we strap on our skates, we're trying to beat Canada. It's a big deal."

Many players on both teams took part in the United States' surprise victory against Canada in the 1996 World Cup that was keyed by Richter's exquisite goaltending. But that was played just before the NHL season and didn't attract even a fraction of the attention and interest that this game will.

One other intangible is that the United States is 21-0-3 in Olympic games played on home ice since a 1932 loss to Canada.

Strategically, the game will match outstanding top lines -- John LeClair-Mike Modano-Hull for the United States and Paul Kariya-Lemieux-Yzerman for Canada -- and two teams that have successfully adapted their usual north-south approach in the smaller NHL rinks to the much wider international rink.

"Maybe I should ask Herb Brooks if we can go find a backyard rink and let the two teams go at it," Canada Coach Pat Quinn said. "We have to play on a bigger surface, and I think our teams have adjusted well."

The United States chose younger, faster defensemen Poti, Brian Rafalski and Aaron Miller to complement the much older Chelios, Leetch and Phil Housley. That strategy has gotten the puck moving and allowed the big U.S. power forwards to station themselves down low and create scoring chances.

The United States has a 24-5 scoring advantage through five games (4-0-1). Canada has a 18-12 edge while going 3-1-1.

"We're going to try to dictate and play our game, and so are they," U.S. forward Doug Weight said. "It's going to be a physical, gritty hockey game, but I don't think it's going to be a blood bath."

If the game is low scoring and one goal means the difference between gold and silver, Canada has some of the finest scorers in Lemieux and Yzerman; the United States counters with Hull.

"They know us, we know them," Brooks said. "There are no secrets in this one."

Gretzky can only guess at the letdown Canada will feel if it comes this close to winning, only to lose to (oh, no) the United States -- or, conversely, the elation if it wins.

"Nobody remembers who wins the silver," he said.

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