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Friday, February 22, 2002
Updated: February 23, 2:25 PM ET
 
USA holds off rally; Russia blames officials for loss

Associated Press


BOX SCORE

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- After recreating one game of a lifetime, the U.S. hockey team will try to play another -- one that Russian coach Slava Fetisov believes was helped along by referees with a North American bias.

There's not much you can do about it right now. An agreement's been signed that is designed to have a final between Canada and the USA. You have this final, you have NHL referees. ... They live here and they know the North American players.
Russian coach Slava Fetisov

The United States relied on its power and size to build a three-goal lead, then held on during a frantic, memorable third period for a 3-2 Olympic semifinals victory Friday over Russia -- 22 years to the day after their famous "Miracle on Ice" game in 1980.

Up next comes the matchup all North America wanted -- Canada against America for the gold medal on Sunday. The United States hasn't played for the gold since 1980, when it beat Finland two days after its college-age amateurs stunned the Soviet Union super team that had dominated hockey for two decades.

"You don't to pick and choose who you will be playing against, but it certainly does make it dramatic," U.S. goalie Mike Richter said. "It should be a fantastic 60 minutes of hockey."

There were only 20 such minutes Friday, but they undoubtedly will be replayed for years.

"That was the best game I've ever been in," U.S. forward Jeremy Roenick said.

Not for Fetisov, who criticized the officiating -- just as many Russian Olympic officials have for several days -- because every U.S. goal followed a Russian penalty. Russian defenseman Danny Markov yelled angrily at referee Bill McCreary of Canada as they left the ice and was suspended for Saturday's bronze-medal game against Belarus.

"There's not much you can do about it right now," said Fetisov, who was surly and defensive after the game. "An agreement's been signed that is designed to have a final between Canada and the USA. You have this final, you have NHL referees. ... They live here and they know the North American players."

Under an agreement between the NHL and hockey's international governing body, NHL referees must work any Olympic game in which a majority of the players are from the league. McCreary will again be the referee Sunday.

Russian goalie Nikolai Khabibulin had no problems after the Russians drew 12 penalty minutes to the Americans' 8.

"The refereeing all in all was quite fair, and I think we shouldn't try to find fault in them," said Khabibulin, who was more concerned with facing 38 shots in the first two periods and 49 overall.

Coached by Herb Brooks, just as they were in 1980, the Americans steamrolled to a 3-0 lead with goals by Bill Guerin, Scott Young and Phil Housley. But the lead was almost erased in less than four minutes.

Mike Richter
You can't see Mike Richter, but he does stop the puck with his right foot. It was one of his 17 third-period saves.

Russia, with arguably the fastest and most skilled forwards in the Olympics, turned what seemed a rout into a tense struggle that greatly resembled the Soviets' desperation in Lake Placid.

Richter, idle for long stretches of the first two periods, came under nonstop pressure after Alexei Kovalev scored only 11 seconds into the third period and Vladimir Malakhov scored 3:10 later.

At that point, Brooks called his only timeout and told his players, "Write your own book instead of reading someone else's book about success."

After that, Richter was a textbook big-game goalie, making key save after key save, once stopping Sergei Samsonov on one side of the net, then, scrambling from a prone position while screened on all sides, Alexei Yashin on the other. Richter made 28 saves, 17 in the third period alone.

In the 1980 game, the United States took a 4-3 lead on Mike Eruzione's goal, then held off a similar Soviet flurry in the closing minutes. Eruzione also was at Friday's game.

This time, Russia's Igor Kravchuk said, "We just did it too late. We came out a little slow. We lost the battle in front of the net."

In their 2-2 tie Saturday with Russia that is the only blemish on its 4-0-1 Olympic record, the United States got off to a fast start, then slowed down in the middle and gained the tie when Brett Hull scored late in the third period.

This time, the Americans played with the aggression and confidence they so badly lacked in their dismal 1-3 Nagano Olympics in 1998. They came out with a rush and didn't let up in pressuring Khabibulin, who turned aside 41 shots Wednesday in a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic.

The bigger U.S. forwards repeatedly crashed the net, screening Khabibulin on almost every shot to create space and rebound opportunities. That strategy was especially effective on the power play, as the Americans scored on three of their first four man-advantages.

Guerin got the United States started, pushing in a rebound from the slot at 15:56 of the first period -- the third of a flurry of shots thrown at Khabibulin, who had made 60 consecutive saves at that point but couldn't make the 61st.

Unlike Saturday's game, the United States didn't wear down or let up in the second period, rarely keeping a line on the ice more than 30 seconds but always making sure every line had a big forward.

Young made it 2-0 with Russia's Darius Kasparaitis off for roughing, whacking at Housley's shot from the point to send the puck bouncing crazily over Khabibulin and into the back of the net.

Housley got his own power play goal just over 10 minutes later on a rebound after the Russians couldn't clear the puck, leaving plenty of room for Housley to shoot.

At that point, the Americans' third victory in 11 Olympic games (3-7-1) against the Russians seemed secure. So did America's 70-year unbeaten streak (21-0-2) in Olympic games on home ice.

On Sunday, the United States will try to repeat its 1996 World Cup victory over Canada, the last time the countries met in a major international tournament. Both the men's and women's Olympic hockey tournaments ended with Canada-United States finals.

"It's perfect," U.S. defenseman Brian Leetch said. "It's what everybody was hoping for."