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U.S. Falls Short Against Canada

By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 16, 1998; Page C1

 Canadians Celebrate
 Joe Sakic, Rob Zamuner, Keith Primeau, Eric Desjardins and Wayne Gretzky celebrate after Zamuner's goal.
(Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

NAGANO, Feb. 16 (Monday) — The commotion surrounding this game was so loud, it could be heard across the Pacific Ocean. Screams of encouragement from two countries found their way to Big Hat arena this afternoon, but when the Olympic men's ice hockey game between the United States and Canada was over, a singular reply rang back: Canada wins, 4-1.

In some ways, the game was closer than the score indicated, with the United States playing by far its best 60 minutes of this tournament. But in other ways, Canada looked a class above the Americans, aided by excellent goaltending from Patrick Roy.

The defining moment in the game might have come in the first period, when the Americans blew 1 minute 40 seconds of a five-on-three advantage. Fourteen seconds after the U.S. power play expired, Rob Zamuner came out of the penalty box to score Canada's first goal. The United States never recovered.

"We played well — we just didn't take advantage of our opportunities and they did," U.S. General Manager Lou Lamoriello said. "We just have to keep playing this way and remember the tournament starts in the next game."
 One of 9,863 crazed fans at Big Hat shows his colors.
(Hans Deryk/AP)

As urgent as this game seemed to the 9,863 crazed fans at Big Hat, it was only the final game in the round-robin portion of the tournament, used to determine standings. With the win, Canada (3-0) seized first place of Group D. Sweden (1-1) was expected to beat Belarus (0-2) later in the day, giving the Swedes second place, leaving the United States (1-2) in third ahead of Belarus.

Teams next move on to the single-elimination quarterfinals, in which the top team from Group D plays the lowest-ranked team from Group C. The United States likely will play Russia or the Czech Republic.

Before this afternoon's game, U.S. Coach Ron Wilson had maintained that the tournament's three round-robin games were important opportunities to build chemistry, but added that winning them was not critical to the team's advancement. A team could lose the first three games, he pointed out, but if it wins the next three, it would secure the gold medal.

Despite that, even Wilson recognized the pride that was at stake this afternoon. More than an hour before the game, pedestrians passing Big Hat stopped to stare at the throngs of fans waiting to get into the building. Flags were waved and words were exchanged, while in the background a group of 20 traditional Japanese drummers swathed in red costumes were thumping instruments in time to the quickening heartbeats.

Finally, the doors were opened and the stands inside the arena quickly filled with red, white and a few patches of blue. Canadian fans vastly outnumbered U.S. fans, although at times it was difficult to see the actual people with so many maple leaf flags waving.
 Joel Otto of the U.S. team (right) takes a shot to the head from Joe Sakic (No. 91). (Hans Deryk/AP)

The atmosphere was similar to the feel of Montreal's Molson Centre the night the United States won the 1996 World Cup. On that night, the Americans shocked the Canadians in the final game of a three-game series, coming from behind in the final four minutes to win, 5-2.

The result meant little to most U.S. fans, but it tore at the fabric of Canada's sports psyche and set the stage for today's game.

"Let's be honest," U.S. captain Chris Chelios said before the game. "We've had bragging rights for the last two years, and it's killing them."

Now, Canada has the edge and also some small measure of retribution for an incident that occurred between Blackhawks defenseman Gary Suter, a member of the U.S. team, and Anaheim's Paul Kariya, expected to star for the Canadians, during an NHL game two weeks ago. Suter knocked Kariya out of the game with a concussion, rendering him unable to participate in the Olympics. Suter was given a four-game NHL suspension, but since suspensions don't carry over to the Olympics, he is here playing.

On Saturday, U.S. forward Jeremy Roenick had predicted "there will be bloodshed," and less than two minutes into the game today, U.S. forward Adam Deadmarsh had a bloody nose.

Physical play continued throughout the game, although it was Canada's Wayne Gretzky, one of the biggest opponents of the NHL's clutch-and-grab style, who earned the afternoon's first penalty, for interference.

Later in the first period, Canada's Joe Sakic and Zamuner earned penalties within 20 seconds of each other, giving the United States a two-man advantage for 1:40, Brett Hull took four shots, including one that hit the post, but neither he nor his teammates were able to beat Roy, who was flanked by at least two Canadian defenders at all times.

Wilson appeared somewhat frustrated after the second penalty expired, but he barely had time to react. Just 14 seconds later, Canada scored.

Sakic earned the second assist by weaving around Suter and Mike Modano, then dropping the puck to Gretzky. Gretzky fed Zamuner in front of the net, and Zamuner knocked the puck past goaltender Mike Richter for the score at 16:30.

Keith Primeau put Canada ahead, 2-0, by knocking in Steve Yzerman's rebound at 13:37 into the seconds period. Yzerman barreled into Richter, rendering him unable to make the save.

Because international rules are different from the NHL, where such contact with the goaltender is not allowed, the goal stood, but not without vehement protest from the United States. Wilson, standing in front of his bench with the door to the ice open, almost appeared ready to walk over to the faceoff circle as he screamed at referee Bill McCreary.

After that, Canada began to roll. With less than two minutes remaining in the second period, Sakic, alone next to the net, knocked in a rebound that Richter was unable to control. Primeau added a second goal in the third period, and Hull finally scored the only United States goal with six minutes remaining in the game.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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