LeClair gets U.S. off to good start, 6-0

Transition attack sparks hat trick against Finland

`it looked like we gave up'

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 16, 2002|By THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - Coach Herb Brooks said he was seeking a basketball-like transition game from the U.S. men's hockey team.

Last night, he got the Los Angeles Lakers.

Given the open ice of the international game (15 feet wider than the NHL) and Olympic rules that allow long passes, Brooks was in his element. The coach of the 1980 USA gold-medal Olympic team, Brooks made his return behind the Olympic bench look like a solid choice in a 6-0 victory over Finland at the E Center.

It was only a pool play game that will be used for seeding purposes when the tournament moves to the "playoff round." But it was clear that Team USA not only buys into Brooks' philosophy of wide-open hockey, but that the team also has the players (John LeClair had three goals) to pull it off.

"This morning at the skate, Herb Brooks said the country's eyes are on all the Olympians, and on us tonight," said LeClair, who was scoreless in four games in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. "It meant a lot to us."

Brooks came under some scrutiny during the selection process for Team USA as he overlooked some of the nation's "regulars" on defense (Derian Hatcher and Mathieu Schneider) and instead went with more risky picks like Tom Poti, Phil Housley and Brian Rafalski. But the chemistry of Team USA looked pretty close to perfect when you consider players had just one short practice to get ready for the game.

Team USA controlled the puck against a speedy and talented Finland team and generally kept the heat off of Team USA goalie Mike Dunham, who received the first start while veteran goaltender Mike Richter was given a night off to rest after playing four NHL games in eight nights.

Richter is expected to get the start when Team USA plays Russia at 10:30 p.m. Friday. That game should be emotionally charged as tickets were being scalped for $500 and everyone is expected to try to relive Team USA's Miracle on Ice victory over the Soviet Union in 1980.

The Russian players, who beat Belarus yesterday, said the game did not mean anything special to them.

"We can't live in the past," said Alexei Kovalev.

Still, expect fans to get fired up to support Team USA. The E Center was a splash of red, white and blue as most fans wore some article of clothing to show their support for the United States.

The fans showed patience in a chess-match first period and then resounded with applause when Team USA put three goals on the board in the second period and took control of the game.

Finland's Jani Hurme was solid in net, but he was left alone too often as Scott Young and Keith Tkachuk scored in transition and LeClair scored twice on rebounds - once in the second period and once in the third. LeClair then added a 2-on-1 goal off an assist from Brett Hull at the 11:23 mark for a hat trick.

"That was awesome," LeClair said. "Hullsie is a great goal-scorer, but he can pass the puck as well as anyone."

Bill Guerin provided the final margin on a pretty passing play with Housley late in the period.

"They had a strong second period," said Finland's Jyrki Lumme of the Americans. "They scored when they had a chance, and we didn't. ... We didn't give up. We tried to play too much individually, not as a team. That's why it looked like we gave up."

Wire services contributed to this article

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