Keeping their cool
Team USA has poised, dominant first gamePosted: Saturday February 16, 2002 1:42 AM
Updated: Saturday February 16, 2002 1:51 AM
Patience and discipline have long been hallmarks of Finnish hockey. Brash, aggressive attack-oriented hockey has characterized Team USA for years. Well, the Americans were in full control from beginning to end -- of both their approach and emotions.
In the first period, the forwards skated fleetly, flattening Finns on the forecheck -- forcing three power plays. It didnít lead to any scoring, but the forecheck and sound defensive play set a nice precedent -- the offense will be there as long as they didnít give Finland any unnecessary opportunities.
In every aspect, Team USA looked sharp. The defensemen didnít foist themselves on the rush, instead opting to effectively start the offense with solid decisions and accurate outlet passes. Then the goal-scorers put on a shooting display with a varied array -- Scott Young shooting in full stride from the right side and Keith Tkachuk doing the same from the left. John LeClair then set up in front of besieged Finn netminder Jani Hurme, scoring twice from the top of the crease.
Everyone fulfilled their role, including head coach Herb Brooks. His decision to start Dunham shows he has paid close attention to NHL action recently because Dunham has been the superior USA netminder since Christmas. Two combinations underscored his thoughtful line combinations and defensive pairings.
First, recognizing that there is room for a power winger like LeClair on the top line and second, that Gary Suter and Chris Chelios are perfect as the ancient warrior stopper tandem. In a short period, Brooks has fostered a team concept and facilitated a scheme that maximizes the teamís strengths while at the same time minimizing the potential exposure of their shortcomings.
Granted, Finland needed to capitalize on those second period power plays and secure the lead. When that failed, they faltered, while the Americans moved ahead, plan unaltered. The Tkachuk-Jeremy Roenick-Chris Drury line along with the Brian Leetch-Phil Housley combo also appeared at ease with one another.
Honestly, though, no one played poorly for Team USA. This rousing performance served notice that this is a focused group -- honed in on the task at hand. Behind the bench, providing just the right touch was Herb Brooks, getting his guys of one mind in a hurry -- now with momentum.
Goaltender: Dunham was solid when he had to be, but more than anything, he was likewise as sharp and focused as the rest of his teammates. By posting the shutout, Dunham did his part to turn a win into a dominating performance.
Defenseman: Housley was seemingly everywhere. He was stellar on the breakout, got things going on the power play after some early disconnect and aggressively joined the rush, keeping many plays alive in the offensive end.
Forward: LeClair. If you score a hat trick, you deserve the recognition. LeClair acknowledged that with Doug Weight and Brett Hull on his line, he would get plenty of quality chances. On this night, he certainly made the most of them.
Darren Eliot, a former NHL goaltender, is a hockey analyst for CNN/Sports Illustrated and will provide Olympic hockey commentary throughout the Games for CNNSI.com.