The postmortems on the U.S. hockey team's failure to reach the medal round in Calgary have cast the blame on just about everything except the ABC television coverage.
What most critics, mesmerized by the gold-medal achievement of 1980, tend to ignore is the label placed on that triumph: "Miracle on Ice."
Miracles do not happen very often and to expect the United States to beat the world's best consistently with a team of college players is unrealistic.
Coach Dave Peterson got about as much out of his overmatched outfit as possible. The United States battled the heavily favored Soviets and Czechs to the wire before losing close games. Then they were ousted by a superior West German team that played almost flawlessly.
The West Germans have played together for years and defeated Finland and Canada, a team augmented by NHL stars in the 1987 World Championships. West Germany began the Olympics by beating Czechoslovakia, 2-1; there was no reason for the United States to be favored in the showdown.
When the United States won its gold medals in 1960 and 1980, it was blessed with superb goaltending first from Jack McCartan and then Jim Craig. This year Mike Richter, Chris Terreri and John Blue did not come close to that level. An inexperienced team simply cannot win without a superior goaltender.
That goalie might have been available in Robb Stauber, who has played every game for a 29-7 University of Minnesota team that finished first in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Minnesotans cannot understand why the Olympians wanted Blue, who figured as No. 2 for the Gophers.
While the West Germans used a veteran defense that took away the slot, cleared the puck expertly and gave goalie Karl Friesen solid protection, the U.S. defense depended heavily on young, inexperienced players.
If one play should serve as the epitaph for U.S. hopes, it is the shorthanded goal that resulted in the disappointing loss to Czechoslovakia. Every U.S. defender went for the puck carrier, leaving another forward open to receive the decisive pass. That can be attributed to inexperience; this was an inexperienced team trying to compete against talented, patient, experienced players.
Critics of the pre-Olympic schedule insist the large number of games against inferior college teams gave the U.S. players an inflated sense of their offensive potential.
But the United States faced Canada nine times, Sweden six and Finland two, besides playing nine exhibitions against NHL clubs. A disappointment, certainly, was the failure of the Soviet Selects to provide more of a challenge in the teams' eight-game series.
The principal complaint with the U.S. performance in Calgary was Peterson's attempt to place the blame for the loss to Czechoslovakia on the referee. A team that loses on a shorthanded goal needs only to look in the mirror to assign blame.
On the whole, though, this U.S. team found itself in the toughest division, gave it a good shot and deserves credit for providing some entertaining evenings against powerful opponents.
If criticism of the Olympic effort is widespread in this country, it is far more biting in Canada, where several longtime national team players were bumped just before the Olympics in favor of run-of-the-mill NHL skaters.
There will be no shortage of eager U.S. candidates in 1992 at Albertville, France, hoping for another miracle. Canada might have trouble getting a team.