'Old guy' line combines for 11 points

Updated: September 8, 2004, 1:47 AM ET
By Jess Myers | Special to ESPN.com

St. Paul, Minn. -- So much for the notion that a youth movement will save American hockey. The old red, white and blue is headed for the World Cup of Hockey's final four thanks to the efforts of three guys who were all playing pro hockey when the first fellow named George Bush was in the White House.

Keith Tkachuk
Getty ImagesTkachuk did his damage all over the ice against Russia on Tuesday night.
The 5-3 victory over Russia, which gives the Americans a Friday night semifinal date with either Finland or the Czech Republic in St. Paul, was orchestrated by the efforts of Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin and Mike Modano, who combined for 11 points. Between the three of them, there were more than 40 seasons of NHL experience on one line Tuesday night.

Where less than a week ago Team USA looked old, slow and overmatched versus this same Russian squad in a 3-1 loss, Tuesday the Americans were led by the youthful enthusiasm of a 13-season NHL veteran. Tkachuk scored four of the Americans' five goals and assisted on the fifth.

"I've had four goals in a game at some point in my NHL career," Tkachuk said. "But it was special tonight. There's no way we wanted to go home like this."

But as much as the offense generated by that line meant, the calming influence on the team bench may have been just as important with 19 minutes to play. After Tkachuk's first two goals gave Team USA a 2-0 lead, the Russians scored in the second period and again in the opening minute of the third to tie the game 2-2. Modano and Tkachuk both said that's the point where a younger team may have panicked.

"That's where experience comes into play," Tkachuk said. "A younger team would get flustered, but we knew we were dominating the game and we just had to settle down."

For Tkachuk, settling down meant 22 seconds of work in front of the Russian net and the quick re-establishment of a two-goal lead.

First Tkachuk grabbed a Dmitry Kalinin turnover at the blue line and plowed to the top of the Russian crease, getting off a weak shot that bounced off the leg pad of goalie Illya Bryzgalov. Scott Gomez had crashed to the net and was there to chip in the rebound. Just seconds later, Tkachuk was waiting to the left of Bryzgalov to tap in a perfect pass from Guerin for the eventual game-winner.

"If it ended up 2-2 right from the get-go in the third, like it did, I think you might have a different attitude with a bunch of kids," Modano said. "Those are tough goals to absorb, when they happen so fast, but with our experience and age factor, we had a few big shifts and boom-boom, it's 4-2."

The veteran-dominated win stood in sharp contrast to the veteran-dominated sluggish start that doomed Team USA last Thursday in their first meeting with the Russians. The loss disheartened many American hockey fans who griped that American hockey was over the hill, and prompted American coach Ron Wilson to put five new players in the lineup for the following night's game with Slovakia. The most important product of the resulting 3-1 win was confidence for an American team that had seen very few positive results stemming from the work they'd put in to that point.

Wilson said that he knew from the first Russian game that his team was on the short side of the talent scale but was determined to outwork the opponent this time.

"We weren't going to underestimate the skill level of the Russians," Wilson said. "(Tuesday) we had the better work ethic. We'll never be able to match their skill level, but if you outwork their skill, there's a good chance you'll win, and (Tuesday) we did."

What was most evident Tuesday, aside from the work ethic, was the comfort the trio of Guerin, Modano and Tkachuk displayed with one another. That comfort is a commodity that has been years, if not decades, in the making. Modano and Guerin have played together in Dallas for the past two seasons, and Tkachuk talked of how he's known Guerin since the two were playing schoolboy hockey in Boston. While praising his old Massachusetts friend for making the game easy to play, Tkachuk even found the time for a lighthearted mention of the one place where he and Guerin will always be on opposite sides of the fence.

"He went to the second-best school in Boston -- Boston College, and I went to Boston University," Tkachuk said with a broad grin. "So we faced off against each other, but we became really, really good friends that year."

Tkachuk also admitted that he had overslept on Tuesday and was late getting to the rink, which Wilson said was a never-before-seen anomaly.

"Every other time I've been around Keith, he's the first guy in the room and the last guy to leave the building," Wilson said. "It will be interesting to see if he deliberately tries to sleep in next time. I doubt it."

For at least one member of Team USA's high-scoring trio of "old guys", a little extra nap was apparently just the boost he needed.

Jess Myers covers college and pro hockey for ESPN.com affiliate insidecollegehockey.com and for the Twin Cities bureau of The Associated Press.

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