CNNSI.com Winter Olympics 2002 Winter Olympics 2002


 

Riding to the rescue

Roenick foils Russia's bid to tie game

Posted: Saturday February 23, 2002 12:51 AM

 
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- In a game like this Olympic semifinal, a 3-2 U.S. win over Russia that a couple of odd bounces could have swung the other way, it was U.S. center Jeremy Roenick who made the save of the night. This was midway through the third period, with Russia on the power play and pressing to tie the game. Roenick always kills penalties with a certain desperation, and this time, when he saw a side of the net wide open, he put himself in the goalmouth. Then he took a puck in the stomach and preserved the lead. "I'm fine," he said later, "no worries."

So was Roenick swapping netminding strategy when he paused to talk to Russian goalie Nikolai Khabibulin after the game? Not quite. "I just wanted to say a few words to him," says Roenick. "I used to play with Nikki [with the Phoenix Coyotes]. He's a friend of mine, and in my opinion he's the best goalie in the world."

 
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Khabibulin is not the goalie who is going to the gold-medal game, though. In the end, the buzzing U.S. forwards were too much for him. Three power-play goals -- the first by Bill Guerin, who was all over the ice in the first two periods -- were the difference.

Friday's semifinal was the kind of game in which you had to respect the other guy. The U.S. had Russia reeling from the opening faceoff. Even as the game settled in, Russia provided little resistance. The first two periods were so lopsided -- at the second intermission the U.S. led 3-0 and was outshooting Canada 38-11 -- that some in the crowd wondered whether the Russian mob had its rubles on the red, white and blue.

Then came Period 3. "We don't sit on our leads," said U.S. forward Scott Young. "But when they got a goal like that, 11 seconds into the period, yeah, it set us back a bit."

That score came off the quick stick of Alexei Kovalev. A few minutes later Russian defenseman Vladimir Malakhov, who has had a splendid tournament, beat a screened Mike Richter to cut the lead to one.

From then on it was either team's game. Russia had chances, the U.S. had chances. No one dared look away. There wasn't anything to do but hold your breath. "That must have been hard for fans out there watching," said Young's linemate Doug Weight , who played courageously though he was coming off a nasty bout with the flu. "As players we don't have time to get nervous, we just have go out and play our tails off."

And be ready to take one in the belly if they have to.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy is in Utah covering the Olympics for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.

 
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