U.S. can't beat nerves, or France, in opener LILLEHAMMER 94

February 14, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- They were nervous.

The Team USA goaltender ditched the goalie cam.

The forwards passed the puck as if they were rolling a bowling ball.

The defensemen showed an inordinate lack of composure playing before flag-waving fans that included first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and first daughter Chelsea Clinton.

L And the Americans tied the French in hockey last night, 4-4.

Really.

But don't despair.

Not only is the quality of play in this Winter Olympics hockey tournament kind of minor league, so is the Americans' path into ** the quarterfinals.

Four of the top six teams in each of the two groups will advance from the five-game round-robin.

By tying France, Team USA managed to scratch out a point in Group B.

It could have been worse.

"This was something of a moral victory," Team USA coach Tim Taylor said.

"Given we were down two goals," he said, "we were fortunate to tie the game."

It's true.

The French had the Americans on the run, until Peter Laviolette and Brian Rolston scored goals 2:35 apart midway through the third period to salvage the tie.

"For the most part, we played the kind of game we wanted to play," Taylor said. "We had lots of pressure in the French end. But we were ineffective on the power play."

The Americans were 0-for-7 on the power play. They even gave up a short-handed goal.

They outshot France, 34-14. They were stopped cold for most of the night by a goaltender named Petri Ylonen.

"It really is different in the Olympics," said Team USA goaltender Mike Dunham. "I'm only 21 years old. I'm not used to this."

Dunham had a chance to become a television star, the first Olympic goaltender to play with a tiny camera attached to his mask.

He declined.

Good thing, too. There wasn't exactly a lot of action in the American end.

"I wasn't ready to wear the thing," he said.

None of the American players, a collection of college kids and pro castoffs, played as if they were entirely acclimated to the Olympics.

Six months of exhibitions against the best teams in North America and Europe simply couldn't prepare Team USA for an opening night in Norway.

It wasn't as if Team USA should have been intimidated by playing in the compact Hakon Hall, a glass and wood enclosure that is to be converted into a team handball gymnasium.

"There were definitely butterflies," Rolston said. "But after the first shift or two, once you checked a guy around, the butterflies went away."

Despite goals by John Lilley and Peter Ferraro, despite wave after wave of offensive assaults, the Americans simply couldn't get rid of the French.

Two U.S. goals were disallowed. They watched in horror as France's Bruno Saunier was awarded a goal after the officials viewed a videotape.

It kind of made you long for the good old days, when Team USA coach Dave Peterson yelled at the officials over the smallest of provocations.

Taylor, on leave as the Yale coach, politely questioned the calls.

And the Americans fell behind 4-2, when Pierrick Maia ended a three-goal French burst with 12:12 left in the game.

After the goal, Dunham flopped to the ice and lay face down for several seconds, contemplating the possibility of defeat.

"They made a great play," he said. "And I just missed that shot. I was trying to get myself together."

So were his teammates. Give the Americans credit: they refused fall apart.

And give Dunham credit, too. He was mostly inactive (facing seven shots in the first two periods and 14 overall), but made four terrific saves against a final power play in the last two minutes to preserve the tie.

"We were dispirited we didn't win," said defenseman Brett Hauer. "We had every chance to capitalize on this game.

But the Americans let a win get away.

Today, they are off.

Tomorrow, they play Slovakia, half of what is now a two-country entry from Czechoslovakia.

The Slovaks are the No. 12 seeds, but they are led by an old-timer from the NHL, Peter Stastny.

L And they tied tournament co-favorite Sweden, 1-1, yesterday.

Anyone ready for hockey night in Bratslava?

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