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WINTER OLYMPICS : Soviets Cool Off Canada

February 25, 1988|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

CALGARY, Canada — Say good night, North America.

And batten down the saunas, Scandinavia. You're next.

The Soviet Union's hockey team on Wednesday night completed an impressive sweep of this continent (Mexico may have a bobsled team, but it knows enough to stay off skates) by putting Canada through its ice-crushing machine, 5-0, evaporating the home team's hope for a gold on the first day of medal competition.

All that stands between the Soviet Union--which last week tattooed a CCCP on Team USA, 7-5--and its seventh gold medal in the last nine Olympics is Sweden and Finland. Sweden is next after beating Czechoslovakia, 6-2; and Finland routed West Germany, 8-0.

The Soviets, who have breezed through all six of their games here, have six points, including four they carried over from the preliminary round by beating the Czechs and West Germans. Finland is next with five, and Sweden has four.

The West Germans, who kept Team USA out of the medal round, have two, Canada one, and the Czechs--who were accused by their assistant coach, Frantisek Popisil, of having a "lack of courage"--are without a point.

Team USA will play Switzerland this afternoon in the seventh-place game, which might seem like a natural time to play third-string goalie John Blue, the team's only Southern Californian. But Blue, who is from El Toro, said Wednesday he did not expect to play, and was given no explanation by Coach Dave Peterson.

Against the Soviets, Team USA had taken its cue from Jerry Tarkanian, who coached the Runnin' Rebels long before Peterson used that style. Team Canada Coach Dave King, on the other hand, borrowed from Muhammad Ali and his "rope-a-dope" technique, hoping that his team could absorb the Soviets' best shots, then sneak in a counterpunch or two.

That approach worked in Moscow, where Team Canada beat the Soviets, 3-2, to win the Izvestia Cup, but it unraveled 45 seconds into the second period Wednesday, when Sergei Yachin circled the net and stuffed a wrap-around goal past Team Canada goalie Sean Burke.

Six and a half minutes later, it was 2-0, Soviets, as Viacheslav Bykov took a nifty pass from Andrei Khomutov right in front of the net for a power-play goal at 7:22.

Burke, who just turned 21 last month, has his likeness engraved on a $10 Olympic coin here, but against the Soviets, he could have come up both heads or tails--which he did much of the night--and it wouldn't have made a difference.

This Team Canada had about as much chance to score against the Soviets as the Million Ruble Line has to score in the National Hockey League. While the Soviets poured it on, scoring three goals in a 10-minute span of the third period, Team Canada could manage just three shots in the final period as goaltender Sergei Mylnikov coasted to his second shutout.

Canada's best players--Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and the rest of the crew that beat the Soviets in the Canada Cup last fall--were available here only on O-PEE-CHEE cards, Canada's equivalent of bubble-gum cards.

But the National Hockey League still has first dibs on Nos. 99 and 66 from Canada. King was counting on a collection of minor leaguers, college players, former NHL players and those who will never again be able to hold off the Soviets.

"The talent gap is there, no question about it," King said. "All we can do is make a great effort."

Igor Dmitriev, the Soviet assistant coach, was asked if he missed Gretzky.

"Certainly, Gretzky made a great impression on us," he said. "We would have liked to have seen him again and, indeed, examined his game."

The Soviet game, on first inspection, had appeared to be something less than it used to be in recent months. Losses to Sweden in the World Championship and to Canada here and in Moscow had given rise to the notion that Coach Viktor Tikhonov was losing his touch.

That talk is dying faster than the Soviet players are buying blue jeans in Calgary shopping malls, although King still maintains they're not as invincible as before.

"They've won, things are going well, and you're seeing a pretty solid group," King said. "But last week, the U.S. kept them off balance, they didn't look like a powerhouse then. But when you win a couple of games, all of a sudden, things get rolling.

"Their problems aren't over, though. Sweden will give them a very good game."

King did say that two of the Soviets' top stars, defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and center Igor Larionov, are playing much better than they had back in Moscow last December. Someone asked Alexander Tchernykh, the only Soviet player brought to the postgame press conference, whether the possibility of playing in the NHL was serving as a motivator for Team CCCP.

"I don't know," he said through an interpreter. "Our main goal is to come here and win a gold medal. It isn't to think about the NHL. That's not our concern."

Supposedly, the Soviets will give the NHL a list of 10 names to choose from. But breaking up this team would be like breaking up the '27 Yankees. There may be names on that list, all right, but it's more likely you'll see Boris Spassky or Maxim Gorky there than the Million Ruble Line of Fetisov, Larionov or Sergei Makarov.

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