Posted: Sunday February 19, 2006 4:45PM; Updated: Monday February 20, 2006 1:00PM
The Americans have now scored twice against the varsity teams in the B pool -- Slovakia and Sweden -- and the nightly assurances that the goals will come from somewhere are starting to ring hollow. If they keep looking for those goals, they will be breaking down videotape on the way back home Thursday, one-and-done in the knockout phase. Laviolette said he will consider juggling the lines against Russia, a dress rehearsal for the quarters, although playing Mike Modano, seemingly the only American not chary of shooting the puck, for the entire 60 minutes is not an option.
No, this is not a team that seems capable of winning a wild-scoring quarterfinal.
This tournament, for better or worse, is on DiPietro.
Of course this always has been the way for American goalies, who play an iconic position in their nation's hockey history. From Jack McCartan in 1960 to Jim Craig in 1980 to Mike Richter in the second period of the 1996 World Cup final when he put on as spectacular a goaltending display as anyone ever has seen, there have been men who have seized big games and bent them according to their wills. They have made every save their team needed. When an attack is as middling as the Americans', that might mean stopping every shot. DiPietro is going to have to win a 1-0 game sometime in these Olympics unless the U.S. shooters take a side trip from Turin to Lourdes.
And really, that's not all bad news. Forget Ryan Miller back in Buffalo. That story is over. Of all the American goalies in Turin -- John Grahame, who played in the disappointing opening tie with Latvia, and Robert Esche -- DiPietro is the one best suited to greatness, something Team USA general manager Don Waddell alluded to last November when he said he hoped DiPietro would prove to be the American goalie.
The former No. 1 overall draft choice has an acute sense of moment, a cockiness that can be contagious. When the New York Islanders summoned him to the NHL for the first time, his minor league goaltending partner, veteran Wendell Young, observed, "They better get two seats. One for Ricky and another for his ego."
The dysfunctional Islanders might be among the worst training grounds imaginable for embryonic greatness, but six time zones away that ceases to be an excuse. Indeed, DiPietro has handled himself, if not all knuckleballing pucks, well in Turin, staying at home and not roaming the defensive-zone countryside as he often does on Long Island. He just needs to find something a little more profound, a stand-on-the-head performance that will make this crazy goal drought irrelevant.
The task is daunting, maybe even unfair. But you see those proud stripes on his pad? On Wednesday, DiPietro gets a chance to earn them.