CALGARY, FEB. 13 -- Tonight, the U.S. Olympic hockey team emphatically accomplished what neither the gold medal-winning 1980 team nor the disappointing 1984 team -- nor any U.S. Olympic team -- has been able to do since 1960:
It won its opening game in the Olympics.
The U.S. team easily defeated Austria, 10-6, in front of an estimated 15,000 at the Saddledome on the first night of Olympic competition. Center Corey Millen, one of only two members of the '84 team to return to play on this one, scored two goals and assisted on two others to lead the Americans. Other than two goaltenders, the United States had 18 players eligible to play tonight. Nine of them scored.
Although the U.S. team might have a tougher road to the medal round because of West Germany's 2-1 upset of Czechoslovakia earlier in the day, there was no mistaking this as the brightest beginning for a U.S. Olympic team in 28 years, since the Squaw Valley Olympics -- although it was one of their easiest opening assignments ever.
Few remember that at Lake Placid in 1980, the U.S. team tied Sweden, 2-2, on a desperate goal by defenseman Bill Baker with 27 seconds to play. The Americans never lost after that tie on their improbable journey to their gold medal.
In 1984, at Sarajevo, the U.S. team lost to Canada, 4-2, the night before the opening ceremonies. The Americans effectively were eliminated from medal contention by that loss, and finished seventh in the tournament.
The U.S. team had this game well under control with a 9-3 lead with 9:05 minutes to play. Coach Dave Peterson replaced goaltender Mike Richter with Chris Terreri at that point, and Terreri allowed the last three Austrian goals as play got very sloppy.
Unlike 1980, when the Americans stuck with goaltender Jim Craig, the '88 team is expected to play both Richter and Terreri, although Terreri's performance tonight against one of the weakest teams in the Olympics did not enhance his chances.
The Americans will play their next game, against the Czechs, Monday at 8:15 p.m. (EST). This will be a vital game for Czechoslovakia, which lost when West German Peter Schiller back-handed a goal with 7:01 to play.
The West German upset adds to the pressure on the U.S. team to beat the Czechs or the Soviet Union, which easily handled Norway, 5-0. The Americans and Soviets will play Wednesday. All of these teams are in the Blue Division; six others, including Canada, are in the Red Division. Three teams from each division will qualify for the medal round. It was widely believed that the Americans and West Germans would compete for the final Blue medal-round spot, behind the Soviets and Czechs. The West German victory gives them a boost because it came against one of the teams that observers thought would be the best in the division.
"I don't think anyone at this stage knows if it helps you," Peterson said of West Germany's victory. "You have to win your own games to control your destiny. We still will have to get to West Germany and we'll have to defeat them."
The U.S. team had some early-game jitters, but quickly took leads of 2-0 in the first period, then 4-1 midway through the second period.
The Austrians squandered several two-on-one breaks and even one three-on-one in the first period before the barrage began. Lane MacDonald scored the first U.S. goal on a short wrist shot into the right side of the net after he gathered in a pass behind him from Steve Leach. Leach played for the Washington Capitals and will return to the organization when the Olympics end.
That goal came with 8:32 gone in the first period. In just over six minutes, the United States scored again, this time when Millen slapped in a pass from Tony Granato. Granato spotted Millen open at the edge of the crease after getting the puck from defenseman Jeff Norton, circling behind the net.
U.S. defenders, perhaps a little too eager to increase their lead, let Kurt Harand sneak in behind them for a power play goal with 35 seconds left in the first period. But if Austria had any chance to get back into this game, it ended in a four-goal second period.
The U.S. players took turns scoring: center Craig Janney put in a rebound after defenseman Brian Leetch's shot hit the post on the power play with 3:48 gone; center Allen Bourbeau took a pass from Millen at the blue line and stuffed it past goaltender Brian Stankiewicz less than two minutes later, at 5:12; center Scott Fusco, the other '84 alumnus, beat Stankiewicz over his right shoulder after Millen stole the puck on a power-play goal at 12:06; and Leetch scored unassisted, between the goalie's pads after 15:08.