"Our front line is more than 100 years old, so what can we expect?" the Soviet said, a smile floating uncertainly on his unhappy face.
"Yours are so young, I contratulate you!" said another.
"Well, it happens and that's all there is to it."
Embarrassment, fatalism and sportsmanlike stiff upper lips -- all can be found here today as the Russians deal with the surprising 4-3 loss of their powerful veteran Olympic hockey team to the upstart Americans yesterday.
This capital of a hockey-mad country virtually shut down at midmorning today as Moscovites retired to their small flats to watch the taped, delayed television broadcast of the crucial game. Many already knew the outcome from the official radio, but probably millions of others hadn't a clue that their "hockeyists" were about to be outhustled by an inspired team of U.S. collegians.
Let it be said that many Russians were drawn immediately to the young Americans when they first appeared on Soviet television screens more than a week ago as the Games began. "They look like children," one man said, with unconcealed awe and possibility delight.
And they had some warning that their own team of veterans, drawn chiefly from officer-players of the Central Army Sports Club in Moscow, were not doing so well. The Soviets came close to losing both to the Finns and the Canadians on their way to play the Americans. The military newspaper Red Star declared going into the match with the U.S. that "the performance of (our) defensemen is a source of some concern. They make blunders at times in absolutely harmless situations."
But Tass, the Soviet news agency, in a dispatch today from Lake Placid, manfully called the defeat "perhaps the greatest surprise of the Olympics. It is difficult to explain how come the most experienced Soviet players conceded to the team they quite recently outplayed in New York without much difficulty (10-3). The dash and selflessness characteristic of the U.S. players doubtless played their role. They succeeded.
"But while appraising the results, experts also point to the unsuccessful actions of the two finest lines of the U.S.S.R. team, to the underestimation of the opponents by Soviet players, to the errors made by defensemen and goalies and to the element of confusion and insufficient-concertedness in their performance."
The collapse of Soviet precision teamwork did not escape Tass' devastating attention. "Attacks by Soviet players were uncoordinated and individual," it summed up. "The match proved again that both champions and favorites do lose in competitions, particularly at the Olympiad."
A number of Russians here have been salvaging some self-respect today by pointing out that "practically all the Americans already have signed professional hockey conracts," as one matron put it, a steely glint of dsapproval in her eye.
And then she said, "We're now rooting for the Finns."
It might be the first time in Soviet history any Russian ever did that.