Team USA makes ugly exit Commentary: American NHL players trash their Olympic Village quarters and their image.

February 20, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,SUN COLUMNIST

NAGANO, Japan -- Maybe next time, the U.S. men's ice hockey professionals should just stay home.

They've certainly done their best to ruin the first Olympic tournament to include National Hockey League players, an international breakthrough for the sport.

After their elimination by the Czech Republic, the Americans capped off a week of questionable conduct and embarrassing play by trashing their quarters in the Olympic Village, U.S. Olympic Committee officials said.

In 1980, ABC's Al Michaels shouted, "Do you believe in miracles?" when the U.S. team, then composed of amateurs, defeated the former Soviet Union on its way to the gold medal.

The '98 team prompts another question:

Do you believe in manners?

USOC officials said players broke 10 to 12 chairs, damaged two apartments with fire extinguishers they activated, and tossed an extinguisher from the fifth floor into a courtyard.

USOC officials said the incidents occurred at 4 a.m. yesterday Nagano time. Paul George, head of the U.S. delegation, estimated the damages at approximately $1,000. David Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said "only a handful" of players were involved.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, vice president Brian Burke and players union head Bob Goodenow viewed the damage to the village, USOC executive director Dick Schultz said.

"I can say that they were disturbed and apologetic to our chief of mission and our delegation," Schultz said.

"Obviously, such conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," Bettman said.

USA Hockey and the NHL offered to pay the cost of repairs. USOC officials will meet with Nagano organizers today to assess the damages.

Meanwhile, Japanese police are investigating whether an injury to Canadian bobsledder Matthew Hindle from broken glass was caused by U.S. misconduct.

Hindle reportedly was struck by a glass pane that had been knocked out of a sixth-floor room occupied by members of the U.S. delegation, but USOC officials said the hockey players were staying on the fifth floor.

The officials, however, made no secret of their displeasure with the American NHL stars.

"Not only are we disturbed that this happened for many reasons, but I am particularly unhappy that this incident disturbed other U.S. athletes who were sleeping and preparing for their events," USOC president Bill Hybl said.

How selfish can you get?

How stupid?

The U.S. women's ice hockey team produced the feel-good American story of the Olympics, winning the gold medal with a dramatic victory over Canada.

The U.S. men provided the obligatory ugly-American angle, acting like frat boys on the greatest international stage of all.

They made a big deal out of staying in the village, gracing everyone with their presence.

Thanks for coming, guys.

"I'm really upset that all this stuff is happening, that people would think we were all hammered and destroy furniture and that we don't care about the Olympics. That's not true," U.S. forward Doug Weight told the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.

Team USA was eliminated by its 4-1 loss to the Czechs Wednesday. The Americans were expected to contend for at least a silver.

"We were really ticked off that we lost that game," Weight said. "That night after the game, a bunch of us and our wives and families were taken to a karaoke restaurant. We had a great time, singing and drinking a few beers.

"We got back to the village real late, and we probably were too loud. Some guys were wrestling and stuff, but that's it. I know nothing about broken windows or anything like that.

"As for the broken chairs, we're big guys and the chairs aren't real strong and some of them had been broken since we got here just from sitting on them to play cards. We weren't throwing furniture."

USOC spokesman Mike Moran said Weight's claims about the players' weights were, in essence, weightless. "I don't believe they all were splintered by big guys," he said.

Seriously, who knows what to believe from Team USA anymore?

Several U.S. players dismissed reports that they had partied excessively in Nagano, but reporters spotted them out at 4 a.m. after their only victory, over Belarus.

Forward Brett Hull even put his dedication on display for Baltimore's WJZ-TV at a night spot, turning the camera on himself.

Hull, however, said he was in his bed at 8 p.m. eight of his 10 nights in Nagano.

"It was almost ridiculous the amount of time I spent just listening to my CD player and doing crossword puzzles on my bed," he said.

Crossword puzzles?

Here's a clue for the clueless:

Seven letters for Olympic embarrassment.

T-E-A-M U-S-A.

"Players are going to have fun and do whatever they like to do," forward Mike Modano said. "If the players play well, everyone forgets about it. If you lose, people will use that as an opportunity to pick at players."

They came, they lost, they trashed.

Pick away.

If the NHL isn't furious with the Americans, it should be.

The league interrupted its season for 17 days to allow its players to compete in the Olympics. Six teams featured strong NHL contingents, including semifinalists Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland and Russia.

NHL commissioner Bettman said league officials believed any of those teams could win the gold medal. But a strong showing by Team USA would have stoked interest in the United States, where the NHL is expanding rapidly.

Bettman acknowledged that the team's early elimination will reduce the U.S. television audience. The U.S.-Canada men's game, televised live at 11: 45 p.m. EST Sunday, received the highest ratings of any hockey broadcast in the 1990s.

The American players had a special responsibility to the league, and responded by trouncing the snowboarders for the stupid-Olympic-tricks gold medal.

Next time, just stay home.

Pub Date: 2/20/98

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