LILLEHAMMER, Norway — Dave Peterson feels no need to defend either his brusque manner or his gung-ho offensive strategy, although he was vilified for both as the U.S. hockey coach at Calgary in 1988 and again at Albertville, France, four years later.
"I thought we played very well (in '88) and I know most people would find that shocking," Peterson says of a team that finished seventh with future NHL stars Brian Leetch, Craig Janney, Tony Granato, Kevin Stevens and Mike Richter. "You second-guess yourself and say, 'Should our (pre-Olympic) schedule have been tougher?' And you think, 'Should we have had a few older players?' But with the rules and format in effect then, those were the players available. I have no apologies over who we picked and how we performed.
"People say, 'If you had all that talent, how come you didn't win?' I turn around and say, 'Maybe we did a pretty good job preparing them for the NHL.' I thought I did a pretty good job coaching.
"In 1992, I thought we came up a little emotionally dry in the bronze-medal game. By and large, I thought the players played well and we got the maximum out of them. Obviously, we had a great goalkeeper in Ray LeBlanc."
He says he ignored the criticism heaped upon him, even when officials of the International Olympic Committee mocked the team's defensive disarray.
"If you're going to be in the coaching profession, you've got to live with it," adds Peterson, whose work as technical director of USA Hockey, the sport's governing body, includes compiling instructional material for players and coaches.
"You always feel there are little things you'd do differently. The tournament is such that if you played it every week, you'd have a different winner. There are so many factors: How a player plays that day, how a team plays, how well you are physically, how well you adjust, especially if the Games are in another country."
Peterson, 63, will watch these Games on TV at home in Colorado Springs. "I think all coaches miss coaching, especially about now when the team is getting ready for a big competition," he says. "It's a great adventure. You say to yourself, 'It would be great to be doing this again,' but knowing the hard work, you're glad you're not doing it."
MORE BAD MEMORIES
Ten years after he coached the United States to seventh place at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, Lou Vairo has more excuses than Olympic victories. No one, he says, knew center Pat LaFontaine was ill and couldn't take medication because it was banned, or that defenseman Chris Chelios broke his foot in the first game. Or that David A. Jensen had a knee injury. No one made allowances for Al Iafrate and Ed Olczyk being 17, or for the effects of David Hirsch hitting the crossbar with the U.S. team trailing Canada, 3-2, in the opener, a game that killed American medal hopes.
"The thing that made me feel saddest is the world didn't see them at their best," says Vairo, director of special projects for USA Hockey. "We were 2-2-2 and we lost to two great teams, Canada and Czechoslovakia. That same year, Czechoslovakia beat Canada at the World Championships."
Vairo believes that he and Peterson have been maligned. "I've yet to hear anybody say we did a great job of player development. Leetch, Janney, Stevens . . . Nobody said Dave Peterson or Lou Vairo did a great job in player development. No, we didn't win a medal, but we did some things well. We didn't ruin them, anyway."
LaFontaine still rues his team's showing in '84. And it probably should have been better, because he and many of his teammates had successful NHL careers. He played with Olczyk, center Corey Millen, Chelios--a two-time Norris Trophy winner--and Iafrate, a four-time all-star.
"We had a really talented team, but every place we went (on an exhibition tour), they had a reception for us and that might have distracted us," said LaFontaine, the Buffalo Sabres' top center. "We ended up playing 65 games. I look back and say we played some of our best hockey before the Olympics."
Last season, LaFontaine set a record for American-born players when he had 148 points and was runner-up to NHL scoring champion Mario Lemieux. He underwent knee surgery in November, but is progressing rapidly and might return in May.
HE'S AN OLYMPIC FLAME
Dave King's mind will be with the Calgary Flames, but his heart will be with the Canadian Olympic team.
King, the Flames' coach, led Canada to fourth-place finishes in 1984 and '88 and to a silver medal in '92. As these Games approach, he pines for the drama of international competition.
"I'm glad to be doing what I'm doing, but the Olympic hockey tournament to me is the highlight for any coach or athlete," said King, who had Eric Lindros, Joe Juneau and Sean Burke on his squad at Albertville. "I made so many friends there and at the World Championships. You miss seeing those people."