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The Big Picture: A day for all fans to call in ... sick

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Hockey fans should've called in sick. Sports fans should've e-mailed it in. Anybody with any interest in compelling drama should've found any excuse to ditch all responsibilities and tune in their televisions. Your primary-care physician might still write you a note: a case of Citius, Alitius, Fortius, Puckius.

Yesterday was heaven.

Not just hockey heaven. It was a hump day that TV sports won't top for years. It was a Wednesday when left wings made Americans forget about "West Wing."

It began at 1 p.m.. After midnight, we were still watching. Four Olympics games in one day, games for the ages, a world stage quadruple-header. If you don't like hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, even though this Winter Games product is much better than the NHL mush, you had to find riveting entertainment on MSNBC, CNBC and NBC yesterday. Must-see TV, indeed.

Sweden-Belarus. Sweden had tangible golden dreams and a perfect pool record. Belarus players had ice packs on their aching heads. They had smelling salts underneath their tired noses, having played seven games in a dozen days. Their team faced an early 5-on-3 penalty kill, and commentator John Davidson remarked that if Belarus survived it would mean "another Miracle on Ice." Belarus thrived, taking a 2-1 lead.

Announcer Gary Thorne remarked, "Oh, my, Belarus" when the underdog took a 3-2 lead. J.D. added, "The people here might be witnessing ... one of the greatest upsets you'll ever see in Olympic hockey." Two minutes and twenty seconds left in a tie game, some Belarussian named Vladimir Kopat stopped just inside the red line and fired a shot that somehow bounced off the Sweden goaltender's mask, down his back, then dribbled into the net. Do you believe in miracles? Da.

Russia-Czech Republic. The Czechs had the hockey gold from 1998 Nagano. The Russians had the tarnished memory of a 1-0 loss in that gold medal game. The Czechs had Dominik Hasek and the offensive flow going. The Russians had Nikolai Khabibulin stopping 40-plus shots and teammates snuffing another 20-plus themselves. Sixty shots directed toward the goal, and the Czechs couldn't charge a goal on the only credit card accepted in Salt Lake City. Sixty shots, and you'll never see a more oh-ffensive, 1-0 game in any sport.

This Olympic hockey moves so briskly -- hasty faceoffs, automatic icings, no red-line play, no fighting, actual penalties called -- that MSNBC missed the game's only goal while in a quick commercial break. No matter. You saw Darius Kasparaitis block a shot with his face. You saw a sprawl of four players in the Russian crease and ref Stephen Walkom on top of the net, all in the frantic final seconds.

United States-Germany. You saw John LeClair lose a tooth and Jeremy Roenick lose a stick. No matter. Each got a replacement and a goal. Brett Hull scored from between his legs, from astride the goal line. He also scored on a tip-in he swore wasn't his.

Jim Craig, goaltender of record in 1980, watched United States-Germany 22 years to the day a four-goal rally against Germany sent him and the Miracles to that greatest upset in sports history, Americans over Russians, and their golden moments. Twenty-two years and a five-goal rally later, guess who plays next? "Gary," J.D. said to his booth partner, "bring it on, baby: USA-Russia." Herb Brooks, 9-0-2 career in Olympic play, and Craig Patrick meet the Old Red Machine all over again.

Canada-Finland. Three minutes into the nightcap, Joe Sakic backhand ... score. "That should've been stopped by [Janni] Hurme," J.D., an old goalie, said of the Finnish goalie. Hey, look, there was Wayne Gretzky in the stands, quiet for once. Any more anti-American rhetoric, Gretz? No wonder some U.S. writers have taken to calling him The Great Whine.

Canada's captain looked like an old broken-down tractor, a Swedish broadcaster uttered after Olympic-tournament opener? Mario Lemieux isn't healthy, but he isn't useless farm equipment, either. Heaven knows what to expect next from this five-ring hockey circus.

Program notes

One last item about Olympics hockey: Announcer Kenny Albert worked 23 games covering 19 different teams and nearly 400 players, ranging from Sweden's 15-year-old girl goaltender and Finland's 39-year-old fella forward. And he did just dandy for a last-minute replacement for Mike Emrick.

Thanks to Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers for turning me on -- er, alerting me -- to this matter. Fox Sports Net in Hollywood is starting to sell sizzle. Check out the, uh, revealing photo gallery of network sportscaster Lisa Guerrero and newfound golf reporter Lisa Dergan at its Foxsports.com site. Although, as Simers wrote yesterday, these Dergan pictures are probably the most clothed she can be seen on the Internet, what with her being a former Playboy Playmate and all. You haven't come a long way, baby.

WEAE-AM's annual "Year in Review" special airs today, starting at 6 p.m.

You can reach Chuck Finder at cfinder@post-gazette.com

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