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Mike Downey

Hockey Coach Isn't at Loss for Answers

February 16, 1988|Mike Downey

CALGARY, Canada — The next thing our sarcastic Olympic hockey coach, Dave Peterson, probably is going to do is replace the U.S. goalie, Mike Richter. Forgive us if there are moments when we wish it could be the other way around.

Sure, the red bulbs behind Richter's head were blinking more often Monday night at Calgary's Saddledome than they were a few blocks away down on Third Street, the city's red-light district. Richter gave up all seven goals--and squandered a couple of three-goal leads--in a 7-5, come-from-ahead, Do You Believe in Miracles? No! defeat to favored Czechoslovakia.

So now, it's the U.S. against T.H.E.M., the Russians, the Russkies, the Reds--OK, sorry; the Soviets--on Wednesday night, and no amount of glasnost on Earth is going to persuade those USSR men to take it easy on our poor boys. There will be a lot more pressure on the Americans to put on a good show than there would have been if Richter and the five guys in front of him hadn't let the Czechs off the hook.

They had them, see, right where they wanted them, by early scores of 3-0 and 4-1, and, in the opinion of the sour and dour Peterson--a man compared to whom Minnesota Twins Manager Tom Kelly is an aerobics instructor--the Czechs were ready to catch the midnight flight for Prague. "If they hadn't gotten a lucky second goal, they might have tanked it," Peterson said.

Ah, that's why the U.S. lost. Lucky shot.

No, wait.

The Czechs scored the game-winning goal, the one that made it 6-5, short-handed, after two Americans were penalized within a span of 85 seconds.

"The penalty called that put us one man down was questionable, and the second penalty call was ridiculous . . . I thought the officiating was just lousy," Peterson said.

Oh, that's why the U.S. lost. Bad reffing.

It wasn't because the team didn't know how to hold onto a three-goal lead. Nah. Wasn't that. "Yes, we got careless. We're also not quite 22 years old yet. Nobody said we wouldn't make mistakes," Peterson said.

Aha, that's why the U.S. lost. Inexperience.

Some of the reasons Peterson chose not to suggest were:

Shoelaces untied.

Ice too cold.

Czech sticks corked.

Rabbit in puck.

Hole in U.S. goalie's stick.

Referees dirty Commies.

Our boys mere babies.

We got outcoached.

The Czech coach, Jan Starsi, made some changes during the course of Monday's game, even going so far as to yank his starting goalie 6 minutes 8 seconds into the game. You hate to embarrass a kid, but when the other side takes three shots and all three of them find their way into your net, you do find it difficult to resist the temptation to turn into Charlie Finley and turn your goalie into Mike Andrews.

Asked why he started the other guy in the first place, Starsi said: "That's a good question. The strategy we chose for this game was not the right one."

Of course, he could have said that the Americans got three lucky goals.

Or, that the referee stood in front of the Czech goalie, blocking his vision.

Or, that the haggard old Czech players have been playing hockey for so long, they just couldn't keep up with those quick young Americans.

But, no, Starsi simply decided to say, "I don't think it was such a bad start from our team's point of view. The Americans just played an excellent game. They dominated the first 10 minutes."

If only hockey games were 50 minutes shorter, the Americans might have won.

Or, maybe they would have won if, under Peterson's expert direction, they had, at some point during the last few months, been shown how to protect a three-goal lead.

"It would be nice to have a three-goal lead and sit on it," Peterson said.

Uh, yeah. It would.

"I'm not sure if getting off to a start like that is good or bad," he said.

Uh, wait a minute. Let's look that one up in the manual, How to Play Hockey .

Ah, here it is. Chapter 1.

"Getting Off To a Three-Goal Lead Is Good."

Richter, the U.S. goalie, was sorry that this big one got away, because the Americans could have had a record of 2-0 by now, and "gone into the next three games laughing."

The Czechs, Richter said, "got strong goaltending when they shifted netminders." Love that hockey talk.

"The sad part," he went on, "is to have them on the ropes like that, and let them get away. Normally you don't get up against a team as good as the Czechs like that. I don't know what went wrong with our defense. No one really got goal-hungry, if that's what you're asking."

So, what now?

"Forget about it. Learn from it," Richter said.

Peterson is learning, too. The next thing he'll do is pull his goalie.

It didn't work when he tried that Monday. Better luck next time.

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