Salt Lake stomping
LeClair nets hat trick in Team USA's 6-0 shutout of FinlandPosted: Saturday February 16, 2002 12:55 AM
Updated: Saturday February 16, 2002 1:43 AM
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) -- This looked a lot more like 1980 than 1998.
John LeClair scored three goals in the United States' slow-starting but fast-finishing 6-0 victory Friday night over Finland that erased some memories of the Americans' chair-smashing Nagano Olympics -- and revived those of the Miracle on Ice.
With Herb Brooks behind the bench, just as in the gold medal-clinching 4-2 victory over Finland in Lake Placid, and Mike Eruzione watching from the stands, the United States had all the look of '80 in its first Olympic game on home ice in 22 years.
"It wasn't exactly like riding a bike, but it was fun to be back again," said Brooks, who is coaching NHL stars now rather than college amateurs.
Just as in the 1980 championship game, the Americans got off to a sluggish start, held scoreless in the first period by Ottawa backup goalie Jani Hurme as Finland -- a surprise bronze medalist in 1998 -- looked more comfortable on the bigger international ice.
It was that unfamiliarity with the wide ice that doomed favored Canada earlier in the day in a 5-2 loss to Sweden. But Finland lacks the Swedes' playmakers and puck-moving defensemen, and the Americans' size, strength and scoring began to show in a decisive three-goal second period.
LeClair said the U.S. team watched part of the Canadians' loss and was aware of their problems on big ice, but said, "We weren't dissecting it. We were more worried about getting off to a good start."
Friday's victory served only to improve the Americans' chances of getting a good draw in the quarterfinals -- a team can start 0-3 and still win the gold -- but it was a promising start for the home team and built some momentum going into Saturday night's matchup against Russia.
"They are a team with many world stars, many strong lines, and experienced defensemen," Finland coach Hannu Aravirta said. "It was a strong game they played, absolutely, through the whole team -- skillful and tough."
The United States went nearly half the game before scoring, but once Scott Young scored his fifth career Olympic goal at 9:45 of the second by lifting a shot under the crossbar, Hurme never got the game back under control.
"It's amazing what eight years does for you maturity-wise," said Dunham, Nashville's goalie.
Mike Richter, expected to be the U.S. starting goalie, sat out following a hectic pre-Olympic stretch of games with the New York Rangers, but is likely to start against Russia.
"The guys are really focused on the first three games," LeClair said. "Momentum is important, and we need all three games."
LeClair scored again during a two-man advantage early in the third period, and hooked up again with Hull later in the period to finish off his three-goal game. He didn't have a goal in four games during the Americans' out-of-the-medal finish in Nagano best remembered for the furniture smashing in the Olympic Village.
Now, it's Russia -- the first such matchup on American ice in the Olympics since the Soviet Union's monumental upset loss in Lake Placid. It was the United States' 4-3 victory over the fabled Soviet Union hockey machine that wrote one of the greatest chapters in American sports history.
Against Russia, this U.S. team will get a better idea of how much of an advantage that playing at home will be. The E Center crowd Saturday will likely be even louder and more impassioned than the fans Friday. Russia tuned up with a 6-4 victory over Belarus.
"No matter what happens, the rivalry [with Russia] will be there, and that game will be a big challenge for us," LeClair said.
The United States is 6-2-2 against Finland in Olympic play and still has lost only one Olympic game played on home ice.
"I still have a good feeling about this, though; it's just one game," Finland forward Teemu Selanne said.