Finland ices U.S. hockey team's medal dream, 6-1 LILLEHAMMER '94

February 24, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- The conversation about an Olympic hockey "Dream Tournament" was inevitable.

Not only did the Americans' medal hopes come to an end in yesterday's 6-1 loss to Finland, but an era most likely came to an end as well.

This likely was the last time collegiate hockey players will play for the Olympic team. For the 1998 Games, the Olympic rosters of Canada, the United States, Russia, Finland and Sweden probably will be made up mostly of NHL players, who will be taking a break in the middle of the professional season to form "Dream Teams" similar to the group of NBA stars who stormed through the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

This was one of the poorest Olympic fields, and the best the United States (1-2-3) can do is fifth. Finland (6-0-0) was bigger, better and stronger than the United States, but the way the Americans lost was particularly disturbing.

They rarely showed any offense. They didn't have a go-to guy. Players admitted they weren't always motivated.

Not motivated?

Isn't this the Olympics?

"I thought we had a good game plan," U.S. coach Tim Taylor said. "We weren't going to add players late just for the sake of change. We built this team on speed and with the players that were available. We checked out the schedule and made sure there weren't too many games."

Yesterday, the United States had 11 penalties and gave up four power-play goals. Then with about nine minutes left, U.S. forward Darby Hendrickson got into a scuffle with forward Marko Palo in front of the U.S. bench, and American players who were not in the game threw punches to the back of Palo's head.

"The Americans tried more provocation, more poking and holding once they got behind," Finn coach Curt Lindstrom said. "But what happened in the end I cannot excuse them."

Taylor knows fingers will be pointed at him.

"Yes, I am disappointed," Taylor said, losing his words for a few seconds. "The way we died tonight hurt. I've told them all along about the penalties, and they broke us down with the penalties and mistakes. I don't understand."

There were other problems that miffed Taylor. The Americans were on an emotional roller coaster this tournament, and Taylor even had to show them a tape of speed skater Dan Jansen winning a gold medal to get them fired up for Italy.

When the Americans were emotional, they were unstoppable -- witness their 7-1 victory against the Italians. The United States rallied for ties against France, Slovakia and Canada, and played a great third period against Sweden, but also had periods in those games when they disappeared.

The Americans played well in the first period last night, but several scoring chances were stopped by Finn goalie Jarmo Myllys.

Once forward Mika Nieminen gave the Finns a 2-0 lead with a short-handed goal at 16:08 of the first period, the United States ,, was back on the roller coaster.

Goodbye emotion.

"We showed flashes, but we never reached our potential, not even after a 61-game pre-Olympic tournament," said U.S. goalie Garth Snow, who had 30 saves yesterday. "I know it sounds strange. How can you not get fired up for the Olympics?

"I don't know the answer. If I only had the answer, I'd bottle it and give it to this team. If, if, if. . . ."

U.S. forward John Lilley said: "I wouldn't blame it on the coach.

Game preparation is personal. When you get to this level, the game becomes more mental than physical. The players have to take responsibility."

While the United States' offense struggled, opponents kept relentless pressure on Snow and fellow goalie Mike Dunham by scoring 24 goals.

Also, in past Olympics, American teams were built on defense and goaltending. This team revolved around the offense.

"We had balanced scoring, so I don't think that was a problem," Lilley said in defense of an offense that had only 15 goals in the five games other than the rout of Italy.

Taylor said: "There have been some other American teams that have had success by adding players late, but I wasn't going to. If there was a Petr Nedved like Canada has [played with national team because of NHL contract dispute], then I would have added him if he was available early. But we didn't have anybody like that.

"Finland added four forwards late, and it made a big difference to their team, but I don't know if Curt knew if they were coming or not. After six months, I thought we bonded well."

But they didn't. Neither did France, Norway or even Russia.

That's why there are whispers that could grow into demands for a "Dream Tournament." Discussions are under way with the NHL.

"My opinion is that athletes should be dedicated to performing their best at the Olympics," Taylor said.

"It should not be a vacation from their regular season. That's not what the Olympics are about."

Lindstrom disagrees.

L "A Dream Team would be good for the future," Lindstrom said.

"You want to use the best players in the world. The best players are in the NHL. It would be great to have them for the development of hockey."

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