CALGARY, FEB. 18 -- When the U.S. Olympic hockey team gathered for a meeting this morning, the message was clear and directly to the point.
"We told them they played a helluva game," said team General Manager Art Berglund. "We told them not to get down, just to go out, take a walk, have a nice meal, enjoy the day, because a lot of people were very proud of them."
What the coaching staff did not have to tell the American players in the wake of Wednesday night's 7-5 loss to the Soviet Union also is clear and to the point. To get into the medal round next week, the U.S. must beat Norway (0-3) on Friday night and undefeated West Germany (3-0) on Sunday to even have a chance.
"It's that simple," Berglund said.
What is not so simple is this: How do the Americans hope to win a medal playing the sort of run-and-gun style that caused Berglund to describe them as "the running rebels of U.S. hockey." The Americans have scored 20 goals in their first three games, but they have also given up 20 goals, leading to some criticism among hockey aficionados that this is the wrong style, at the wrong time, at the wrong place.
In all three games, the Americans often were victimized by 2-on-1, 3-on-1 and outright breakaway goals as their defensemen charged toward the opposing net to turn on the offensive pressure. Most teams in this tournament take a far more conservative, safe-hockey approach.
"I've heard all that and I truly believe people are trying to find reasons to take shots at us," Berglund said today. "But there are none. The object in hockey the last time I looked was to put more pucks in the goal than the other guy.
"We've got good defensemen, they'll all be real good National Hockey League defensemen when they turn professional. This is the style of play we've chosen because we believe it works for us. I really think people are grasping to find something to write about."
The Americans clearly were grasping for answers against the Soviets Wednesday night, trailing, 6-2, going into the third period before turning up that pressure to get within 6-5 with nine minutes remaining.
Brian Leetch, a defenseman who is expected to sign with the N.Y. Rangers after the tournament, very nearly tied the game at 6-6 when his shot hit the post with 7 1/2 minutes to play.
Even before that missed opportunity, it had been a rather frustrating tournament for Leetch, considered the most talented performer on this team. He has always been a dominant offensive defenseman at the college level, but has struggled here.
The Americans' goaltending has been spectacular at times, but there is very little a netminder can do when he is constantly at a manpower disadvantage.
"It's great when it's working," said goaltender Chris Terreri of the Americans' offensive style of play. "When it's not, it puts a lot of pressure on you. They'll get the 2-on-1, the 3-on-1.
"But you also always know you'll be in the game at the end. You know you'll always be in the hockey game because our guys can score at will.
"I can tell you this, we'll be ready to play Norway. This team never quits, you saw that against the Russians. All we can do is try to win two hockey games and we'll see what happens."