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Peterson is a retired schoolteacher" and career hockey coach from Minneapolis Southwest High. After 27 years of teaching business courses, he left to become an assistant to Lou Vairo, coach of the U.S. team at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. Loyal to his players, Peterson will criticize them only face-to-face, in private. A similar loyalty—to Vairo—prevents him from comparing his program with Vairo's.
The '84 U.S. team lost its first two games, to Canada and Czechoslovakia, and failed to make the Olympic medal round, a jolting comedown after 1980's Miracle On Ice. Team USA general manager Art Berglund likens the star-crossed '84 squad to Jim Ryun. "They were a good team that had a bad week," he says.
Because of the U.S. team's lowly showing at Sarajevo, expectations this time around are more realistic, although Peterson seems to be increasing the pressure on himself when he says, "People have a right to expect a gold medal. If we didn't think we could win this thing, we'd be out fishing somewhere, sitting watching the bobber." But ABC-TV, for one, isn't taking chances. During the '84 Games the U.S. team's untimely exit left the network with a programming vacuum. To ensure that the country would never again be subjected to such an unhealthy excess of John Denver, ABC persuaded the International Hockey Federation to expand the medal round from four teams to six. That means Dave's Kids could lose to the U.S.S.R. and Czechoslovakia and still skate into the finals by beating Austria, West Germany and Norway, the other members of their division.
Just because Peterson is reluctant to talk about Vairo's methods doesn't mean he necessarily agrees with them. Much is different with this team. Gone is the entourage of assistant coaches and assistant general managers, video analysts, traveling secretaries and the like. Peterson prefers an uncluttered shop. He has only two assistants—Ben Smith from Boston University and Blather-wick, the fitness fiend. As Vairo's bunch mirrored his personality—emotional, hot-and-cold—so does the '88 team reflect Peterson's style, which is unglamorous, even-keeled and, so far, effective. The 1984 Olympic team had the Diaper Line—teenagers Pat LaFontaine, Ed Olczyk and David A. Jensen—on which it relied for the bulk of its scoring. Through Sunday night's 13-2 win over the Soviets at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum, which raised Team USA's exhibition record to 24-13-4, 11 players had 30 or more points, a handsome distribution of the means of production, as the visiting Soviets might say.
Peterson, who has yet to decide on his four lines, welcomes such balance. "You're always going to run into a checking line," he says. "If they clap your scoring line, you're in trouble."
On Thursday night Fusco and Steve Leach erupted for seven points between them. Donatelli kicked in a goal—inadvertently, so it counted.
"Some scoring here, some there—that's fine with me," says Peterson, who values versatility and views his players as interchangeable parts.
Scott Young, Donatelli's erstwhile BU teammate, the Hartford Whalers' top pick in '86 and a shining talent at forward, has been volunteered by Peterson for duty as a defenseman. He had two sparkling assists in Saturday's loss. Donatelli, who was a sniper at BU, has also been assigned a different role on his new team, that of penalty killer, mucker and pest. After playing on a high-scoring line with Craig Janney and Brad Jones, Kevin Miller has lately been taking the ice with Dave Snuggerud and Al Bourbeau.
To give the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams a boost, the NHL recently decided to let them borrow a limited number of players from the bottom half of NHL rosters, provided the chosen players and their teams agree. Team Canada coach Dave King is expected to use the pros. The host Canadians, embarrassed at their failure to win a single Olympic hockey medal, not even a bronze, since 1968, are under intense pressure to end the drought.
Thanks, but no thanks, said Team USA to the NHL. "The only exception is if we're decimated by injuries," says Peterson. "Otherwise, this is the club." Peterson is not the only one who thinks highly of the players he has in place. Eleven of the 24 team members are first, second-or third-round NHL draft picks. Some experts expect that Leetch, 19, eventually will surpass LaFontaine, now a star with the Islanders, as the best U.S.-born player ever.