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WINTER OLYMPICS : SOVIETS WERE HIT HARD : But Now U.S. Must Beat Norway, Then West Germany by Two Goals for Chance to Advance to Medal Round

February 19, 1988|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

CALGARY, Canada — Todd Okerlund, his right eye framed in black and blue, would never be mistaken for a figure skater. If anything, he looked like one of the villains in the world inhabited by his father, Mean Gene Okerlund, the pro wrestling announcer, except that the mayhem in Todd's world--hockey--is real.

He was not a pretty sight. Yet when Okerlund and the rest of his United States teammates walked into a private reception after their 7-5 loss to the Soviet Union Wednesday night, everyone in the room stood and applauded. It may have been small consolation for losing a realistic shot at a medal higher than a bronze, but it was a reward for the way Team USA had scared the Stolichnaya out of the Soviets.

"I think our bumping took its toll on them," said Okerlund, who earned his battle scar when his face caught the stick of Soviet defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov while jousting for the puck in the corner.

"No one keeps track of hitting, but there were 20 guys throwing a lot of hits. I think that threw them off their game. We're not a great bumping team, but we've got a few guys who can really lower the boom."

If Team USA doesn't unload on winless Norway tonight, it might as well borrow the nearest luge and slide south across the Montana border. The 10th-seeded Norwegians shouldn't pose a problem--they've lost three games here by a combined score of 22-4--but that's what the Americans thought in 1984, only to have Norway shock them with a 3-3 tie in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.

And Thursday night, Finland continued the pattern of this wide-open tournament by beating the home team, Canada, 3-1, as goaltender Jarmo Myllys made 38 saves.

Sweden, with two wins and a tie, now leads the "A" pool with five points (two for a win, one for a tie), with Canada and Finland next with four points apiece. The Soviet Union and West Germany, with three wins each, are tied for the "A" pool lead with six points, while the Czechs have four and Team USA two.

To advance to the medal round--assuming the Soviets beat the West Germans and the Czechs beat Austria this afternoon--Team USA must beat Norway today, then beat the West Germans by at least two goals on Sunday.

"I don't think we'll come out for Norway as keyed up as we were for the Russians," Okerlund said at practice Thursday. "But we'll definitely get the job done. This team can put a lot of pucks in the net, and I think you'll see the net filled tomorrow."

Team USA has proven it can score, averaging almost seven goals a game in its 10-6 win over Austria and 7-5 losses to the Soviets and Czechs. But the Americans also have given up 20 goals in three games, and Coach Dave Peterson said he hadn't yet decided between goalies Mike Richter and Chris Terreri for tonight's game.

Peterson remains sensitive to criticism that his team isn't sound defensively.

"The Czechs went out and gave up five goals--do they play good defense?" Peterson said. "The Soviets went out and gave up five goals--do they play good defense?

" . . . It was a great hockey game. We played very well in the first period, except for two bad plays, played a masterful first half of the second period, then gave up some easy goals, then in the third period, we played great, maybe as good as anyone has ever played against them."

When the team returned to the dressing room after the second period, trailing 6-2, heads were hanging, according to winger Tony Granato.

"But then we got one another going again," Granato said. "We said, 'Hey, we have one chance to play these guys, maybe in a lifetime. Let's go out there and give 'em a run for their money.' We thought maybe we could make a game of it, and we did."

They did by scoring three goals in the first 9:08 of the third period. Soviet Coach Viktor Tikhonov was moved to call a timeout seven minutes into the period, something Peterson said he couldn't recall ever seeing the Soviets do with so much time remaining.

"I don't know if that team has ever been dominated that way for 10 minutes," Granato said.

"They were dumping the puck out, scrambling, and yelling at one another."

Okerlund noticed, too, even before Fetisov's stick found his face.

"They were really getting irritated," Okerlund said. "Pushing and shoving, especially after it was 6-5."

Fetisov's goal with 2:01 left soothed Soviet nerves and shot down U.S. hopes for a comeback. It wasn't until after they arrived at the reception and heard the cheers that American spirits were lifted again.

"Certainly we were down in the pits after losing the last two games," Granato said. "In a way, we feel we deserve better than coming out of these games without a point. But just knowing that all these people were still behind us was important to us."

Okerlund, for one, doesn't need to be convinced to keep playing hockey. Asked if he had any interest in wrestling, the 6-foot, 208-pound winger shook his head.

"None whatsoever," he said. "Give me another half a foot and 100 pounds, then I'll kick it around."

For tonight, just give him Norway.

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