Saturday, February 23, 2002
Belarus' underdog run doesn't net a medal
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Russia's latest Olympic medal
won't be a highlight in the nation's rich hockey history.
Slava Fetisov expected his team to earn more than bronze -- and
the coach still isn't happy Russia finished its Olympic run one day
Alexei Kovalev had two goals and an assist as Russia won the
bronze medal in Olympic hockey with a 7-2 victory over Belarus on
With an uninspired but productive performance against the
tournament's most surprising underdog, the Russians claimed their
12th medal in Olympic hockey -- a record their nation will share
with Canada after Sunday's gold-medal game.
Still, it was a disappointing finish for Russia, which won
silver in Nagano and gold in three of the previous four Olympics.
Russia has eight hockey gold medals in all, more than any nation. A
3-2 loss to the United States on Friday night cost the Russians a
chance to play for another gold.
"It's an honor to be part of that tradition," said goalie
Nikolai Khabibulin, who made 21 saves to finish with a .930 save
percentage for the tournament. "We knew we couldn't go home empty.
We couldn't lose to Belarus, but it was a tough game for us. We
spent a lot of emotions last night. It was tough to get up for this
Most observers thought Russia's loss to the Americans was caused
by the latest in a series of slow starts by Russia's phenomenal
group of forwards, who were outshot and outskated over the first
two periods. Russia had another slow start against Belarus, but
picked things up in plenty of time.
But Fetisov, in the tenor of the Russian Olympic delegation's
complaints about fairness in Salt Lake City, blamed the loss
partially on Bill McCreary, the Canadian NHL referee. When asked on
Friday night whether he would have pulled his team out of the game
in the event of a rumored Russian boycott, Fetisov declined to
Fetisov repeated his complaints on Saturday after reading a
letter from International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene
Fasel condemning Fetisov's comments. Fetisov claimed he has video
evidence that McCreary's calls in the second period unjustly
favored the Americans.
All games in the tournament featuring more than 50 percent NHL
players were officiated by an NHL staffer, in accordance with the
league's agreement with the IIHF.
"He missed a few calls on the U.S. team," Fetisov said
Saturday. "In a competition like that, the refereeing should be
neutral. They made the agreement (to use NHL referees) before, and
we're kind of hostages of this situation."
The Russians took out their frustrations on Belarus in a
physical game between two teams representing nations with a long
history of dislike. Belarus is a former Soviet republic.
"We hate those guys. Put it in the paper," Fetisov barked
earlier in the week when asked what he thought about facing
In truth, Khabibulin trained with the Belarusian team last
summer, and Sergei Fedorov is among several Russian players who
once trained in Minsk. Fetisov and Belarus coach Vladimir Krikunov
warmly shook hands afterward.
"We're very happy about our performance," Krikunov said of his
team, which wasn't even favored to advance from its qualifying
round group. "All of our players are in a very good mood right
now. I think they've reached their maximum, not only for these
games, but maybe for their whole lives."
Belarus, which upset Sweden 4-3 Wednesday to earn an improbable
berth in medal play, held Russia to a 2-2 tie until early in the
second period, when Oleg Tverdovsky and Pavel Datsyuk scored 23
Darius Kasparaitis -- who has one goal in 58 games for the
Pittsburgh Penguins this season -- Pavel Bure and Maxim Afinogenov
also scored for Russia, which scored 13 of its 19 goals in the
Olympics during its two games against Belarus.
The rest of the time, Russia's forwards failed to form any type
of cohesive unit. Bure, who led the Nagano games with nine goals,
had just two in Salt Lake City -- and the last was a meaningless
tally late in the third period Saturday.
Belarus tied it 2-2 just 1:15 into the second period when Dmitry
Dudik slipped behind the Russian defense for a breakaway, but
Tverdovsky scored his first goal of the Olympics moments later, and
Datsyuk followed with his first as Russia rolled to five unanswered
The game was frightening to at least two Russian players' NHL
clubs. Alexei Zhamnov limped to the bench with a painful hip
injury, and Kovalev was hit in the face by Belarus goalie Sergei
|From top left, Sergei Federov, Darius Kasparitis, Alexei Kovalev, and Nikolai Khabibulin pose with their bronze medals.|