Friday, February 22, 2002
Richter saves United States in third period
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- For a guy with two rebuilt knees, goalie Mike Richter is standing awfully strong for the United States.
From every position and every angle in his crease, Richter stopped 17 shots in the third period of the Americans' 3-2 victory over Russia on Friday night.
His performance -- one of the best in a lengthy international career that includes three Olympic trips and a World Cup championship -- made the difference in the United States' narrow semifinal win. It was all the more remarkable considering Richter's sketchy health after two reconstructive knee operations in two years.
"You've got to make those games tight to make everybody stay in the building," Richter said with a grin. "You know you're playing Russia, and they're not going to roll over and die for you in the last period. I think we played exceptionally well for 40 minutes, and they hadn't found their game yet."
After mostly watching for two periods as the Russians floundered and his American teammates built a 3-0 lead, Richter was hit by a storm of Russian shots in the third. It started with a quick shot from Alexei Kovalev that snaked between his pads just 11 seconds after intermission.
Richter was beaten again three minutes later by Vladimir Malakhov, and coach Herb Brooks called a timeout. Richter returned from the bench with a resolve that never bent, and with a string of phenomenal saves, he saved the day.
"Mike is unbelievable, considering what he's gone through in the past couple of years," U.S. center Doug Weight said. "If you could ask me to pick any one goalie to be in there with me for a gold medal game, it would be him."
When Russia finally found its game, Richter was ready. He made several sprawling saves in the third, displaying a quick glove hand and a keen eye for the puck. Never once on a series of scrambles in front of the U.S. net in the final minutes did Richter appear out of position or out of his element.
Richter didn't arrive in Salt Lake City with the No. 1 goalie job sewed up, though his previous international experience in winning the 1996 World Cup gave him a leg up. Still, Brooks was worried about Richter's health, and Mike Dunham got the start in the United States' 6-0 victory over Finland.
But once Richter stepped in for the Americans' 2-2 tie with Russia last week, Brooks made him the unquestioned starter -- and Richter has responded with some of his best hockey. Next up: the gold-medal game against Canada on Sunday.
"Whether it's the Stanley Cup, the World Cup or the Olympics, I've been lucky to play with him all these years," said defenseman Brian Leetch, Richter's teammate with the New York Rangers. "He was awesome."