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WINTER OLYMPICS : U.S. Has Empty Feeling : Hockey Team Falls to West Germans, Misses Medal Play

February 22, 1988|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

CALGARY, Canada — They were scattered in quiet clusters through the lobby of the Saddledome, not yet ready to venture out into an Alberta evening suddenly chilled by an Arctic wind and frozen hopes.

Not an ABC camera was in sight. Gone were the crowds, the United States flags, Mike Eruzione and The Chicken. Gone, too, was any chance for a hockey medal. Here, there were only family and a few friends and the scattered pieces of a U.S. team that had run its disappointing course again.

"I was tasting it," said goaltender Mike Richter, the first kid from Pennsylvania ever to put on a red, white and blue hockey sweater in the Olympics.

"I was already thinking, 'What am I going to wear on the Wheaties box?' I was already thinking about another gold medal.

"Instead, here we are, another . . . seventh-place finish, which will put us in the back pages of the history books. It's a hell of a empty feeling."

It's a feeling that was supposed to have died four years ago in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, but surfaced again here Sunday night, when Team USA lost to West Germany, 4-1, and was eliminated from medal competition for the second straight Winter Olympiad. Team USA must win a consolation game Thursday in order to match the seventh-place finish of its '84 predecessor.

Team USA came into the game needing to win by at least two goals because the Soviet Union had defeated Czechoslovakia earlier in the day. Instead, it took only 14:32 for the United States to spot West Germany a 2-0 lead, and the Runnin' Rebels--as U.S. general manager Art Berglund had dubbed his high-scoring team--were unable to skate into a higher gear.

After a scoreless second period, the West German lead became three, as Peter Obresa scored a little more than two minutes into the final period. Team USA, faced with a challenge as improbable as winning the gold in Lake Placid, N.Y., could respond with only a goal by Scott Fusco.

No amount of American ingenuity--not even getting a four-minute power-play when West German defenseman Andreas Niederberger, who already had been penalized for hooking, was found to have an illegally curved stick--could dent the West German defense further.

Goaltender Karl Friesen, the Canadian-born son of German immigrants who returned to the homeland after a four-game trial with the New Jersey Devils, made 33 saves, and Roy Roedger pulled the trigger on the final goal of the night, an empty-net score with 51 seconds left and American Scott Young in the penalty box.

Earlier in the day, Igor Dmitriev, the assistant coach of the Soviet team, which has returned to its familiar position of gold-medal favorite after being undefeated in the B pool, had words of praise for the U.S. team.

"It is a team of great spirit and fire, one that wants to score goals at any cost," Dmitriev said.

But on Sunday night, American fire was no match for the cool of the veteran West Germans, who gave up only 11 goals in 5 games and put the pressure on the U.S. team with an opening-game upset of Czechoslovakia.

Team USA, meanwhile, put pressure on itself by blowing a three-goal lead to the Czechs in a 7-5 loss in its second game, the most transparent of its defensive breakdowns that continued Sunday night against the West Germans.

The first West German goal was scored when defenseman Jeff Norton couldn't pinch the puck in the U.S. zone at the left point, resulting in a West German 2-on-1 that Dieter Hegen finished off with a shot under Richter at 11:19.

The second goal came with the teams skating four on each side. Peter Draisaitl let fly with a slap shot from just inside the blue line and both defensemen--Scott Young and Jeff Norton--turned the wrong way. That left Ron Fischer, another Canadian-born player on the West German team, to scoop up the long rebound and snap it past Richter.

The third goal, with Team USA pressing the attack, came when Georg Franz shifted past Kevin Miller and set up Obresa for another shot from in close.

"If you're going to blame our defense," said U.S. Coach Dave Peterson, who has had a running battle with the media, "then you don't know anything about hockey.

"I thought my kids played pretty well. In no way will I apologize for them."

Richter, who was in the nets for Team USA's losses to the Czechs and West Germans as well as its only two wins--against Norway and Austria, neither of which has won a game--had no apologies, either. Merely regrets.

"Every shot that went in went by me," said Richter, whose finest moment Sunday came when he turned back a penalty shot by Roedger in the first period, a free shot that was awarded when the U.S. goalie threw his stick to stop Roedger when he skated in alone. Roedger's backhand went wide and over the net on the penalty shot.

"You have to give the Germans credit," Richter said. "They did what they had to do to win. Once they got one, then we were down three (the number of goals the U.S. would have had to score in order to qualify by tiebreaker rules.) Then things just snowballed.

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