Tore jobs, assistant hockey coach for Norway, after his team lost to the Soviet Union 5-0 in the opening game of the Olympics: "If you're them, you should beat us more than 5-0."
Ludek Bukac, Austrian national team coach, after losing to the Soviets 8-1: "They have some problems. They win not so easily as they used to."
Bob Johnson, executive director, Amateur Hockey Association of the U.S., after Team USA was beaten by the Soviets 7-5: "They're more vulnerable than ever before."
Could this Soviet team be had? Yes, but only by a squad of hostile biathletes with unlimited ammunition. In Calgary no one touched the Big Red Machine—at least not when it counted.
The Soviets' perceived weaknesses—a lack of scoring balance, merely mortal goaltending, low morale—went up in smoke at about the same instant the Olympic flame was ignited. All remaining thoughts about their vulnerability were snuffed 26 seconds into Friday night's game against Sweden, when Viacheslav Fetisov blasted a slap shot over Swedish goaltender Peter Lindmark's right shoulder to begin another rout, this one 7-1, and assure the Soviets of their seventh hockey gold medal since 1956.
Save a scare from the U.S., which lost a shoot-out, and an inconsequential 2-1 loss to silver-medal winner Finland on Sunday after some heavy-duty celebrating, the Soviets steamrolled their six other opponents by a combined score of 37-6. Said an obviously relieved Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov, "There has been a lot of criticism of the national team and of Viktor Tikhonov."
To say the least. Despite finishing with the best won-lost record (8-0-2) in the 1987 world championships, the Soviets lost the gold medal to Sweden on the basis of goal differential. Then last fall the NHL's Team Canada beat the Soviets two games to one—the score of all three games was 6-5—to win the Canada Cup. Finally the Soviets failed to win their own international Izvestia Cup tournament in December, losing to Canada's Olympic team, and it became clear that Tikhonov's career would be on the line in Calgary.
His critics claim Tikhonov has refused to restructure a hockey system that has remained essentially unchanged since 1972. In most circumstances that would not matter. Properly executed by skilled and experienced forwards—Vladimir Krutov, 27, and Sergei Makarov, 29, rank with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as the best in the world—the swirling Soviet style can be undefendable. But the renowned Krutov- Igor Larionov-Makarov line had gone flat at the Izvestia Cup, and hopeful opponents began to wonder if the aging superstars had burned out.
That theory gained credence in an eyebrow-raising article Larionov wrote for Sovietsky Sport in December. Larionov, 27, complained that players were separated from their families for too long—11 months in his case—and that preparations for the Olympics started too early. Larionov didn't recant his criticisms at Calgary. "My opinions would be backed by other members of the team," he told Canadian sportswriter Larry Sicinski, who speaks fluent Russian.
Overworked and homesick as they may have been, Krutov, Larionov and Makarov—plus Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov, the defensemen usually teamed with the KLM line—owned the ice at the Saddledome, accounting for 19 of the U.S.S.R.'s 45 goals.