Oilers' Conklin comes up huge

Updated: May 6, 2004, 3:12 AM ET
Associated Press

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- The Americans made the home-ice edge disappear again at the World Ice Hockey Championships.

The Czech Republic couldn't take advantage of playing at home Wednesday when the United States defeated the hosts in the city where the Americans won their first world championship 71 years ago.

Strong favorites coming into the tournament with a star-studded team, the Czechs inexplicably became the 17th consecutive host team to disappoint the home fans and fail to win the title. They squandered a two-goal lead Wednesday and lost 1-0 in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 tie in the quarterfinals.

In contrast, the Americans, who barely avoided relegation to the lower level of international hockey at last year's worlds, surpassed all expectations. They reached the semifinals for the second time in four years.

"This is huge for us," said Ty Conklin of the Edmonton Oilers, who stopped 36 shots in regulation and shut out the Czechs in overtime and in the shootout, making two spectacular saves. "The tournament is now wide-open, and we have nothing to lose. It's really exciting."

Andy Roach was the other hero, scoring the only goal in the shootout.

The teams were tied 2-2 after regulation and a 10-minute overtime of four-on-four play, forcing the shootout.

The first four skaters on each team missed, either hitting the crossbar or getting stopped by the goalie.

Roach, a 30-year-old defenseman for Mannheim in the German league, finally got a goal, making a left-to-right fake in front of Nashville Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun, then stuffing the puck into the open net.

When Jiri Dopita shot wide for the Czechs, it was over.

"We were down, but we played a great game, maybe our best effort as a group," coach Peter Laviolette said.

The United States will face Sweden in the semifinals Saturday, with NHL stars Peter Forsberg and Nicklas Lidstrom joining the Swedish team for the game. Sweden beat Latvia 4-1 in the quarterfinals.

"So it doesn't get any easier?" Mike Grier asked jokingly. "Oh well, it's a tough task, but we'll have two days' rest. We're excited by the match against the Swedes."

In the other quarterfinals, which are Thursday, Canada plays Finland and Slovakia faces Switzerland.

The Americans are seeking their third world title, the last coming in 1960, when the Olympics also counted as worlds. The only other time they claimed the trophy was in 1933.

After the U.S. team reached its first objective of securing an automatic Olympic berth for 2006, the heat was off for the Americans, who were considered outsiders at the tournament. The United States finished fourth -- last among the qualifiers -- in its group, then rallied from a 2-0 deficit against the Czechs.

"It sometimes can work in your favor," Conklin said. "We're still the underdogs, and we'll play to that name as long as we can and we'll play to our assets."

The Czechs seemed to have all the elements needed to win the world championship: playing on home ice; loads of NHL talent, including New York Rangers star Jaromir Jagr, free-scoring Martin Havlat of the Ottawa Senators and national team regular Martin Rucinsky of the Vancouver Canucks. Vokoun had a breakout season in the NHL.

"It's only a game, and we lost it," Jagr said, though he looked grim.

The last host to win the title was the Soviet Union in 1986 in Moscow, when it swept nine games while outscoring the opposition 50-15. The Czechs were hoping to repeat their home-ice triumphs of 1947, 1972 and 1985.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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