CALGARY, FEB. 25 -- Before the start of his team's final Olympic hockey game today, U.S. Coach Dave Peterson asked his players "to play for themselves and for their country.
"And," said Peterson, "that's what they did."
A U.S. team that came into this tournament with a simple goal of making the medal round finished with a sloppy 8-4 victory over Switzerland for a 3-3 overall record and seventh place in the tournament, the same finish of the 1984 team at Sarajevo.
But rather than celebrate the victory, the Americans were forced to defend themselves from the comments of yet another critic, this one at the highest level of the International Olympic Committee.
IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch said in an interview with the Associated Press, "It is a pity the Americans are so weak. They are good players, but they have no cohesion. They have no coordination between them.
"Everyone is playing his own game," said Samaranch, who reportedly played roller hockey in his native Spain when he was younger. "When they have the puck, never, never, never do they hit the puck to one another. They run and shoot, run and shoot. And the Russians are playing another way."
Peterson, who spent most of his final news conference criticizing the media for having "expectations that are not realistic," finally took the diplomatic route in response.
"He has the right to his own opinion," Peterson said. "I don't have a quarrel with his opinion. I didn't know he was a hockey expert."
Said team general manager Art Berglund, "I'm disappointed in Mr. Samaranch for criticizing this team when we think it's competed hard and done well. Look how these kids played against the Czechs and the Russians. We were in every game we played. We're proud as hell of them."
The players said they went into today's game with pride as their only motivation. They were eliminated from the medal round by West Germany Sunday night, then had to wait to play a virtually meaningless game that began with Switzerland scoring 19 seconds into the first period.
"In practice, I have to admit as a team we didn't get mentally ready," said forward Lane MacDonald, who scored one of three second-period goals that gave the U.S. team a 5-1 lead going into the final period.
"But when we stepped on the ice, we knew what we had to do. We wanted to win this for Coach Peterson, for ourselves and for the country. It definitely became a pride thing."
Forward Scott Fusco agreed. One of two Americans on this team who played in Sarajevo, Fusco said the 1988 experience was far more pleasant than the last one.
"The 1984 team was much more disappointing," Fusco said. "We didn't play well and it wasn't much fun. This time, we put a good effort into every game. We played everyone tough and came real close to pulling off a couple of upsets.
"People are knocking us because we gave up too many goals, but people knocked the Canadians because they couldn't score any goals. We lost to the Russians, 7-5, they got beat, 5-0. What would you rather see?"
Peterson once again focused his postgame comments on defending his system and style of play. "Our style of play was based on our strengths and we hoped to cover some of our weaknesses," he said. "The fact that some of you think we have no system, well, you missed a great story here . . . Many of you do not understand the strength of the teams we played here . . . I have a tough time believing some of you have ever seen a hockey game . . .
"In my opinion, this team played very well here." As well as they could have played? he was asked. "Yes."