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Mike Downey


February 18, 1988|Mike Downey

CALGARY, Canada — You sit there watching your mother country's hockey team taking a whipping from the Soviets, four goals down with 20 minutes to play, and inside your heart you are doing a burn, because you are far more patriotic than you let on. Your blood is red, and it is boiling. Your palms are white, and they are sweating. Your whole attitude is blue, but you are trying to conceal it.

No way do you want to ruin your reputation as an authentic American wise guy. So, like a goalie, you put on your mask. You hide your true feelings. You yell at the Soviet bench that you hate their stupid ballet, you hate their stupid caviar, and that if they keep this up, you're not going to send them Billy Joel anymore.

You sit there making smart cracks about the Californians in the Calgary crowd leaving early, and about the Soviet Union's coach, whose wide-lapel pinstriped suit must have been found in Al Capone's vault, and about the two Soviet players, Fetisov and Kasatonov, whose National Hockey League rights belong to New Jersey, making them more aware than ever of the cultural advantages of living in Moscow.

You are kidding, of course, because secretly you are every bit as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevy Chase. You actually hurt in your gut for those hungry young guys from Team USA, who are out there stopping shots with their limbs, digging after every free puck, shielding their goalie from danger, only to find themselves four goals behind the greatest bunch of Olympic hockey players in the world.

And then, something happens.

Something wild.

Red jerseys have been coming at you in waves, but all of a sudden you are holding them back. Lane MacDonald, a kid from Harvard, helps to stem the crimson tide. He scores a goal to make the score 6-3.

Scott Fusco pulls the trigger, and suddenly it's 6-4.

Todd Okerlund pokes it through the Soviet goalie's pads, and damned if it isn't 6-5.

More than 10 minutes left to go, too. Lots of time. Gobs of time. Plenty of time left for Team USA to pull off another . . . uh, you know. The M word. The Al Michaels word.

You begin to believe.

You watch Corey Millen swipe a pass, scoot and shoot, and miss by a few feet to the Soviet goalie's left, and you groan.

You watch Brian Leetch clank one off the post, and you moan.

You notice that the Soviet coach is no longer using four lines, sticking with three, because the Americans have so much momentum now, he can't take any chances. He's going with his first string, Krutov and Larionov and Makarov, the Million Ruble Line. He has to, you see, because the Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!

You're alive. You're pounding your fist on the table. It's Lake Placid all over again, even though there's nothing placid about your behavior.

That's when Viacheslav Fetisov, the would-be New Jersey Devil, the name you would never want to get in a spelling bee, the man who already has a goal and three assists in this game, splits the seam of the Team USA defense, zeroes in on the goalie, Chris Terreri, and blasts the puck right past him.

Seven to five. Same score as before. Same score as the Czechoslovakia game the other night. Same odds you probably could have gotten on the Soviets winning the Olympics.

You slump in your chair. You grimace. You feel positively lousy.

"Let's go!" Dave Peterson coaches from the USA bench. "We've got nothing to lose!"

Storm the goal, he means. Keep plugging. Don't give up.

"Block people out! Don't be afraid to take a penalty!" Peterson counsels.

Two minutes left, but he still believes.

So, what the heck. You believe, too.

Next thing you know, Jeff Norton is crashing right into the goalie, Sergei Mylnikov. "Nyet! Nyet!" the goalie yells, and he doesn't mean that thing behind him where the pucks go. It's Norton vs. Kremlin. And then, Okerlund ends up in the Soviet net. And then, so does the puck. And before long, Norton is pushing Mylnikov, and Dave Snuggerud is punching Makarov, and somebody else is whacking some other character whose name ends in "ov" in the face.

It's banging, it's bumping, it's brawling, just the way we play the game back in the USA.

"Stick it in your ear!" Peterson is screaming from the American bench. And then something like: "You gotta cheat to win!"

No, you don't, you think, but by God, you'll defend his right to say it!

Because you're an American.

You're a hockey lover.

You've just watched a great game.

You're proud of your team.

And, man, are we ever going to murder that stupid Norway.

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