Magic on ice
Competitive tie brings back Miracle memoriesPosted: Sunday February 17, 2002 5:01 PM
Updated: Sunday February 17, 2002 7:00 PM
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) -- There was excitement and electricity, an intensity level rarely seen outside the Stanley Cup finals -- and that was just the first period. The next two were even better.
The first Russia-United States Olympic hockey game on U.S. ice since 1980 had everything but a winner, and even that didn't seem to bother the satisfied fans or the exhausted players following the 2-2 tie Saturday night.
"It was a great hockey game," Russian forward Igor Larionov said. "There was no rest. It was skill, skill, skill. It was very enjoyable to play and, I'm sure, it was enjoyable to watch."
After Brett Hull's goal with 4 1/2 minutes left all but assured America a spot in the semifinals, the only regret was it required a second Olympics with NHL players for a game as entertaining as this to be played.
The 1998 Nagano Olympics were known mostly for low-scoring games and almost perfect goaltending by the Czech Republic's Dominik Hasek and, of course, the infamous U.S. chair-smashing debacle. The Czech-Russian finale didn't stir many emotions or much interest in North America.
But a Russian-American game on home ice, with Herb Brooks reprising his 1980 role as the U.S. coach, was a delicious and compelling matchup, even shed of the social and political implications of the United States' "Miracle on Ice" upset of the Soviets in Lake Placid.
"The game lived up to its billing," U.S. forward Jeremy Roenick said, and millions must have agreed.
Despite the 11:30 p.m. EST start, the 7.2 rating on NBC was easily the highest for any hockey game since the 23.2 for the 1980 United States-Finland gold medal game.
"That was the most exciting 10 minutes of hockey I've played in a long time," U.S. forward Mike Modano said of the flurry that finally resulted in Hull's tying goal.
A historical note: The United States also had a 2-2 tie on a late goal, by Bill Baker against Sweden, in winning its last Olympic hockey gold medal in 1980.
Hull, as grizzled a veteran as they get, sensed the energy and anticipation that created a buzz inside the red, white and blue-splashed E Center, normally a minor league venue. Olympic celebrities Elena Berezhnaya, the Soviet pairs skater caught up in last week's judging scandal, and Tim Goebel obviously felt so as they watched from their first-row seats.
Of his game-tying goal, in which he fumbled his first attempt from the left circle only to watch the puck jump right back onto his stick, Hull said, "I call that the old Herb Brooks magic."
The United States probably won't need any such magic Monday to beat Belarus in its last game in pool play. If that happens, and Russia beats Finland to tie the Americans with a 2-0-1 record, the United States currently has a four-goal edge in the first tiebreaker, goals scored.
By winning its pool, the United States -- which already has surpassed its 1-3, no-medal performance in Nagano -- would get a favorable quarterfinal game against Germany.
One thing Brooks might change is the goalie, but not because of performance. After Mike Richter's exceptional 33-save night, he is expected to get the day off to rest up for Wednesday's quarterfinals, with Tom Barrasso likely starting.
Keith Tkachuk, who scored the first U.S. goal, has a bruised thigh and may not know until Monday if he can play.
And, now that the memories of 1980 have been relived, the United States and Russia can concentrate on what they came for -- winning a medal. Unless, of course, they should meet again.
"Of course, it's different; in 1980, it was a bunch of 19-year-old kids doing it and nobody in hockey expected it to happen," Modano said. "We were all glued to our TV sets. So it's special for us and I'm sure it's pretty special for Herb Brooks to have another chance."
Brooks wasn't happy with some tactical mistakes, especially a 30-minute midgame stretch with few shots and many turnovers, so the team practiced Sunday despite a late night game Saturday and a midday start Monday.
"Some things we talked about, we didn't handle them, and if we don't handle them again, we'll get blown out," he said. "But these guys have worked hard to write a heck of a story, to take a run at a medal."