CALGARY -- So, the U.S. Olympic hockey team is gone with the Chinook.

On the last day of summer at the Winter Games, Dave Peterson's defenseless wonders presented ABC-TV with its updated Olympic tab. That'll be another $50 million or so, please. Can Miller Lite ask for a rebate?

Last Sunday, the Rocky Mountains blew away at the opening ceremonies here. Sunday night, it was ABC's ratings. It'll be a cold day in Calgary when somebody pays $309 million to televise another Winter Olympics.

There might be a potential mini-series hidden in West Germany's 4-1 victory over the United States Sunday in the Saddledome. Call it Network Blues.

Don't invite Roone Arledge and goalie Karl Friesen to lunch. The West German netminder, born in Winnipeg and prepped with the New Jersey Devils, kick-saved ABC's Nielsen ratings into March. Americans are loyal, but they seldom stay glued to the tube rooting for a consolation bracket win. Besides, the United States finished seventh at Sarajevo, it's been done.

Think of it this way. It's not really a patriotic duty to watch biathlon or cross country skiing highlights in prime time this week. Some folks haven't seen "Moonstruck" yet. They could even catch an early show and still get back in time to see Frank Gifford and Kathie Lee Gifford on the hearth fire wrapup. Funnier than The Great White North, eh?

Before these Olympics, Peterson, who has worked hard to become known as Uptight and Impersonal, said, "The media thinks our defense is weak. Well, we're not worried."

This time, the what-us-worry approach did not work. The United States allowed 27 goals and perfected the subtle art of allowing two-on-one breakaways. The 57-year-old coach was more candid when he said, "We'll run-and-gun. If that's not good enough, we'll lose."

Actually, Peterson came here with realistic expectations. He said making the medal round of six teams, out of 12, would be an acceptable minimum aim. Anything less would be a disappointment.

"I'm disappointed," he said after this loss. "We had great effort, pretty good intensity. But life sometimes is full of disappointments. . . . The world won't end. We only lost a hockey game. We're a little more realistic than some people."

Unfortunately, few people, including many members of the U.S. team, took his advice and set a reasonable team goal. The United States, perhaps the fifth- or sixth-best team here, set its sights not only on a medal, but perhaps a gold medal. Gotta beat either the Soviets or the Czechs. Crush the Austrians and Norwegians. Don't worry too much about the West Germans.

"If we play well and catch a few breaks, we very likely could win the gold medal," said U.S. captain Brian Leetch.

Can we stop believing in miracles, please? Until the memory of 1980 in Lake Placid fades some more, the U.S. hockey team is going to continue to play against ghosts. Fortunately, by 1992, some U.S. players will at last be too young to remember the Miracle on Ice.

Peterson was correct to say that his team was young, enthusiastic, fast, wild, mistake-prone and capable of exciting offense. All those qualities were on display in crowd-pleasing, almost-inspirational 7-5 losses to the Soviets and Czechs. No more could have been asked in those games. But more could have been left over. Those defeats, especially squandering a 4-1 second-period lead against the Czechs, left the United States with lessened emotion against both Norway and West Germany.

The saddest development here was not the U.S. team's 2-3 record, but, rather, Peterson's self-immolation at mass news conferences. After 27 years as a coach at Southwest Minneapolis High School, he was not equipped to handle blunt questions -- the kind most pro coaches or managers would see as neutral and natural. A blunt man himself, Peterson, nonetheless, reacted as though attacked. The result: He practically begged for more blame than he deserved.

"You can take me to task. You've taken me to task for most of what I've done," he said to 100 reporters.

One Swiss reporter asked, rather rudely and in broken English, what system the American team used, if any.

"Obviously, we just went out and skated around for 60 {pre-Olympic} games," Peterson responded. "That's a stupid question. I'm not going to answer that."

By contrast, West German Coach Xaver Unsinn was the perfect charmer, even wearing a floppy houndstooth Bear Bryant fedora. "This is a phenomenal achievement for us. For me, an enormous success," said Unsinn in English. "The Russians and Americans played more than 60 games together and we are poor things compared to that. You may not believe it but this team came together when the uniforms arrived."

Don't believe it. Nevertheless, that kind of free-and-easy badinage greases the wheels for a national team that must live in the spotlight.

Now, Peterson will return to Minneapolis and retirement. His team's memory will also be retired. To many, it'll be a team associated with jokes: The only squad in the world that might play better if it pulled its goalie in the first minute, not the last.

This evening of frustration, when the United States knew it needed to win by two goals against a strong defensive team in order to advance to the medal round, was the worst type of showcase for such a rambunctious scatter-dash team. On those few occasions when the 1988 U.S. hockey team is recalled, it would be just as well to rewind the tape to the third period of Wednesday's game against the Soviets and leave it at that.