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American anthem

USA beats Germany to set up semifinal game against Russia

Posted: Wednesday February 20, 2002 8:30 PM
Updated: Thursday February 21, 2002 12:10 AM
  Mike Richter Mike Richter made 28 saves to set up a second U.S.-Russia game on Friday. AP

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) -- Just as it did in 1980, the U.S. Olympic hockey team is beginning to believe in the magic word "destiny."

John LeClair, losing a tooth but not his scoring touch, and linemate Brett Hull each scored a goal and the streaking United States closed within a victory of its first Olympic medal since the Lake Placid Games, beating Germany 5-0 Wednesday.

Mike Modano, the third member of the productive U.S. top line, had two assists, while Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios and Tony Amonte also scored to back Mike Richter's 28-save effort.

The United States now plays Russia on Friday in a semifinal rematch of their 2-2 tie Saturday that drew the largest U.S. TV audience for hockey since the 1980 Olympics. Russia beat defending gold medalist Czech Republic 1-0 Wednesday.

"Takiní Care of Business" was a song in 1974 by Bachman-Turner Overdrive -- a Canadian band. However, the Americans seem to have appropriated it as their theme song in these Olympic Games (hope itís OK with Wayne).

Anyway, after the massive upset earlier in the day by Belarus, Team USA refused to play the dupe to Germany. They were methodical rather than menacing, functional rather than flashy. They skated with precision and purpose, keeping the puck deep in the German zone.

With just one 5-on-3 power-play goal to show for their excellence in the first, they easily rectified that situation in the second. They scored in the first minute and seemingly at will after that.

The fourth goal, though, was symbolic of the total team approach evident once again in the Americansí game. Mike York locked up along the boards just inside the defensive blueline. He took his man out and shielded the puck, allowing defenseman Gary Suter to read the play, slide over and collect the loose puck. Suter quickly made the outlet pass, springing Tony Amonte and Jeremy Roenick on a 2-on-1. Roenick received the cross-ice feed on the fly from Amonte. Once the goaltender and defenseman committed to a Roenick shot, he pulled it down and slid the puck back to Amonte, who had assertively continued his path to the far post, easily tapping it home.

Hustle, reading, reacting, teamwork and unselfishness all exhibited -- on one play and throughout the proceedings thus far. Talk about taking care of business.  
 
 

And how's this for coincidence: Not only is Herb Brooks the U.S. coach, as he was in 1980, but Friday is the 22nd anniversary of the "Miracle on Ice" - America's 4-3 Olympic upset by a group of inspired amateurs of the seemingly unbeatable Soviet Union hockey machine.

Asked the differences between that Olympic semifinal game and this one, Brooks said, not even breaking into a smile, "We're going to watch the U.S. women's game."

Otherwise, Brooks repeatedly refused all comparisons as he tries to keep the focus on this group of NHL stars, saying, "There are no similarities whatsoever. I don't know what else to say."

Some of his players respectfully disagree, saying they watched that historic game and envisioned playing a similar game sometime in their careers. Several players said this matchup almost seemed fated, with Brooks coaching again and the identical date.

"Some of the guys were talking in the locker room about that," Modano said. "I played with Neal Broten, who was on that team, and he said there's never been anything like it."

There was an upset of historic magnitude in Wednesday's quarterfinals, but this time it didn't involve the United States. Just before the Americans took the ice, Belarus stunned previously unbeaten Sweden 4-3 to eliminate a potential finalist.

If nothing else, that upset further focused the Americans' attention on Germany, which also played its way through the preliminaries into the round of eight before going 0-3 in round-robin play.

"I think it helped us in the locker room to get ready," Richter said. "We talked about it before the game, how a great team like Sweden was getting shocked."

Brooks said, "I believe that opened up a lot of eyes. It's why we play the game and why it's not just something on a piece of paper."

 
Itís coming one game earlier than the scriptwriters would have had it, but the matchup is here. The U.S. plays Russia in the semifinals on Friday, a rematch of last Saturdayís gorgeous 2-2 tie, and the U.S. will see something they havenít seen before in these Olympics: Nikolai Khabibulin.

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    Just as they have throughout their 3-0-1 Olympic run in which they've outscored opponents 21-3, the Americans moved the puck well to generate plenty of scoring chances without relaxing defensively. It was the kind of teamwork missing when they failed to win a medal at the 1998 Olympics.

    "We're a lot better than we were in Nagano, because we're four years more mature and we've prepared so much better," said Richter, probably the U.S. goalie the rest of the way after allowing just two goals in two games.

    German coach Hans Zach, who played on the 1980 West German team that lost 4-2 to Brooks' gold medalists just before the game against the Soviets, talked beforehand about welcoming the chance to play the Americans. And the Germans came out playing aggressively, so much so they drew 33 penalty minutes in the first period.

    LeClair spit out a tooth when struck by Erich Goldmann's wayward stick in the first period, with Goldmann drawing a five-minute high-sticking penalty and a game misconduct. LeClair, who needed 10-12 stitches, was rammed in the face again by a stick in the second period, causing him to slam his own stick into the glass in pain and frustration.

    Still, that didn't prevent LeClair from scoring one of three U.S. goals in a span of 2:05 of the second that made it 5-0.

    Not that the Miracle on Ice is on the minds of all the American hockey players here, but after the surgical 5-0 dismantling of Germany, Jeremy Roenick noted that in 1980, the United States had also beaten Germany on Wednesday, Feb. 20; the Soviet Union on Friday, Feb. 22; and Finland for the gold medal on Sunday, Feb. 24.

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    It took awhile to get it, but Roenick scored the first American goal at 13:06 of the first, 5 1/2 minutes into an extended power play that included two 5-on-3 advantages. Roenick broke his stick, rushed to the bench to get a new one, then returned to put a one-timer of Brian Rafalski's pass through Seliger's pads from the right circle.

    Chelios, the team captain and the oldest U.S. player at 40, scored on a shot from inside the blue line in the first minute of the second period. Amonte and LeClair later scored 32 seconds apart.

    Not long after that, Hull scored a picturesque goal when Modano's shot off the rear boards caromed to him for an off-balance backhander at the side of the net.

    "That's Brett Hull," Modano said. "He's the luckiest guy in the world shooting the puck."


     
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