Team USA on advance notice LILLEHAMMER 94

February 21, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- It's a position the U.S. hockey team always thought it would avoid in the first round.

But after four games in one week, Team USA is in a do-or-die situation when it meets Italy tonight in a game that will determine the fourth and final team from Pool B to advance to the eight-team medal round.

If Team USA (0-1-3) wins or ties, the Americans advance. If Italy (1-3-0) wins, the Italians move on to the quarterfinals.

"They're fast and they're quick," said David Delfino, the Italian goalie who lives in Medford, Mass. "They seem to have solid goaltending. They like to muck it up.

"It seems like they have a lot of heart," he said. "I always wanted a chance to play in the Olympics, and will do so because of my descent. There's no pressure on us. We've got some pretty good players. I don't think we can beat them four out of seven, but one game, who knows?"

Italy is a team composed basically of rejected players who couldn't make the Canadian national team. Twelve of the Italian players are Canadian-born, and three are American -- Delfino; Phil DeGaetano, a defenseman from Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Mike DeAngelis, a defenseman from Minneapolis.

It's a mutt unit, but one that scares the U.S. team. Losing to Italy would be as embarrassing as an NBA playoff contender losing to the Dallas Mavericks.

The Americans still find it hard to believe they are in this position. Team USA was supposed to beat France and Slovakia, yet the Americans tied both teams. Then they tied Canada before losing to Sweden.

"I don't think we expected to be in this situation, but we're still not in a bad position," said U.S forward John Lilley. "If we win this game, we're in the medal round with a chance to make something happen."

The Italians do have several outstanding players, including forwards Gates Orlando (an ex-Buffalo Sabre and former All-American at Providence) and Roland Ramoser.

But the Americans have to worry about themselves more than the Italians. Team USA has shown it can play with any team, based on its superior performances in the third period of each game so far.

But Team USA can turn in some real clunkers. The most recent was Saturday night's second period against Sweden, when the Americans committed five penalties and allowed two unanswered goals.

"I think we deserve to be criticized a little bit for our inconsistency in intensity," said Tim Taylor, the U.S coach. "I think you saw two different teams against Sweden. I think we have to find the ability to play with intensity for a full three periods.

"I think the France game [a 4-4 tie] was a reality check for us," he said. "Then, to have Italy turn around and beat France is a double reality check for us. We realize what we're up against. If we can get them out of position, get them to make some mistakes, we can possibly find some gaps in their defensive system and capitalize."

Taylor has not announced who will start in goal. Garth Snow and Mike Dunham have played in two games each, and Snow has been the most effective.

Taylor, however, made a surprise move by starting Dunham in goal against Sweden after two superb games from Snow.

Dunham played well, finishing with 31 saves.

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