CALGARY, Canada — Just when it seemed the U.S. hockey program was safe from any more roller hockey legends--or have you forgotten already about Lou Vairo?--another hockey player on wheels delivered a critical broadside Thursday.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former roller hockey goalie better known as the president of the International Olympic Committee, isn't happy that Team USA could do no better than seventh place here, matching its finish under Vairo four years ago in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Team USA clinched seventh with an 8-4 win over Switzerland Thursday.
"It's a pity the Americans are so weak," Samaranch said in an interview with an Associated Press reporter. "They are good players, but they have no cohesion. They have no coordination between them.
"Everyone is playing, everyone is playing his own game. When they have the puck, never, never, never do they hit the puck to one another. They run and shoot, run and shoot."
Samaranch was more unsparing in his comments than most of the media covering this tournament. But to Team USA Coach Dave Peterson, Samaranch and the pen-and-microphone set have something in common: Neither knows what they're talking about. Peterson approached the IOC boss a little more delicately than he did those wearing reporter tags around their necks here.
"I have no quarrel with his opinion," Peterson said. "I didn't know he was a hockey expert."
If there was as much money at stake with ice fishing as there is with hockey, Samaranch probably would be an expert in that, too. The IOC president, mindful that much of ABC-TV's $309-million coverage was tied to hockey, had a rooting interest in Team USA. Bids will be forthcoming soon for the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, and it would have strengthened the IOC position if Team USA at least could have advanced to the medal round.
Instead, the United States was in the position of having to win Thursday in order to avoid its worst hockey finish ever. It didn't look promising when the Swiss scored on their first shot, 19 seconds into the game, but eight different U.S. players answered with goals to give the team a 3-3 record in its six games here.
In an emotional moment after the game, Peterson was in tears in the team's dressing room as he went from player to player, bidding farewell after nearly seven months together. Earlier, however, when it came to selecting his goaltender for the game, Peterson showed no sentiment. He could have started John Blue--the team's No. 3 goalie, its only player from Southern California (El Toro), and the only player who had not been on the ice during a game.
Instead, he played Chris Terreri and left him in for the entire game, even though Team USA built a 5-1 lead after two periods and scattered shouts of "We Want Blue" could be heard in the Saddledome.
Blue, who played college hockey at Minnesota and was a draft choice of the Winnipeg Jets, thought he was going to get his shot when Team USA played Norway after consecutive 7-5 losses to the Czechs and Soviets.
One U.S. player told a reporter that Peterson was talked out of using Blue by his players, who felt that the Norway game was too important to risk using a goalie who had played very little in almost three months.
But the stakes were trivial for the Switzerland game, and Blue still sat. Peterson said Blue understood why he didn't play, and had "no problem" with the decision.
In reality, however, Blue had gone to Peterson late Wednesday night to confront the coach and ask why he wasn't playing. Blue said Peterson said he'd try to get Blue in the game if Team USA had a lead.
"It was 5-1," Blue said with a resigned smile. "What did he want, 9-1 or 10-1?
"He said the right things to make me happy, to make me think I'm going to play. But I never got the chance."