If you're interested in how good the United States Olympic hockey team is, wait 77 days, then ask Coach Dave Peterson.
That's how long it is to the first game that counts--an opening-night matchup with Austria in Calgary, Canada, site of the 1988 Winter Games.
"That'll be our judgment day, of course," Peterson said.
But if you're looking for a sneak preview, wait no longer: The U.S. team is playing the Canadian Olympic team today at the Forum. Game time is at 1 p.m., and plenty of seats are available.
The U.S. team is more than halfway through a 59-game exhibition schedule against National Hockey League teams, college teams, and, in December, an eight-game series against the Soviet Selects.
The U.S. record is 19-12-3, which includes 5-4 losses to Team Canada in their last two meetings, in Hamilton and Calgary.
Two members of Team USA played for the 1984 team at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, centers Scott Fusco and Corey Millen.
There are several National Hockey League No. 1 draft choices on the squad as well--Tom Chorske, Montreal; Craig Janney, Boston; Brian Leetch, New York Rangers, and Scott Young, Hartford.
And several players, taking advantage of the ruling that allows professional players to compete, have taken a year out of their careers to go the Olympic route. Most notable of that group is goaltender Chris Terreri, who played four games with New Jersey; and right wing Steve Leach, who played 15 games with Washington.
The team's leading scorer is Janney, an All-American from Boston College who has 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 points. That's one more than Kevin Miller, a right wing from Michigan State.
Peterson, 56, was an assistant to Lou Vairo on the 1984 Olympic team and coached high school hockey in Minnesota for 27 years before being named national coach.
"Since 1984, two things of significance happened," said Art Berglund, general manager of the Olympic team. "Dave was hired as national coach--the first full-time national coach we've had for both the junior team and senior team, and I was hired as international activities director, in charge of both teams.
"This is the most experienced team we've ever assembled in terms of playing international hockey. Fellows like Pat LaFontaine (star center of the '84 team) never played in the international arena."
Perhaps the most celebrated member of the '88 team is Leetch, a 5-foot 11-inch, 185-pound defenseman who was an All-American at Boston College and a member of the First All-Star team at the 1987 World junior championships.
"A superstar," Berglund said. "Like a Phil Housley (of the Buffalo Sabres), but maybe better."
There's also a Southern Californian on the team--No. 3 goaltender John Blue, whose family served Thanksgiving dinner to the team at their Garden Grove home.
"This team has grown up playing the Czechs, the Swedes, the Russians," Berglund said. "A lot of times, American kids are in awe of a foreign jersey. But these kids have tasted victory. They've beaten the Czechs in Prague."
That was the 1985 U.S. national team, which finished fourth overall and would have had a medal except for a 3-2 loss to Canada, Mario Lemieux scoring all three Canadian goals.
"They know the big ice," Berglund said. "And the international tempo of play."
Peterson said it's too early to assess the strength of this team.
"I like our players," he said. "We skate well, I don't think anyone will out-skate us, including the Russians.
"We just have to learn to play with the puck, and without the puck, at the same tempo we skate at."
Team Canada, coached by Dave King, has a record of 18-9-7.