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U.S. Hockey Team Sees World of Opportunity

September 10, 1996|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — In its simplest terms, the World Cup of Hockey will pit Canadian grit against American ingenuity.

The best-of-three finals, beginning today at Philadelphia's CoreStates Center, will hinge on whether Canada--with an aging group of superstars--can once more delve into what forward Brendan Shanahan called its "emotional well" and produce a victory. The slightest stumble would open the door to the surging U.S. team, which is seeking its first major international title since the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.

"They've wanted to upset us for a long time now, but it's the first time they've had a team this competitive," winger Theoren Fleury of Canada and the Calgary Flames said Monday of the U.S. "This is going to be a war. This is going to be like the Stanley Cup."

Said U.S. left wing Keith Tkachuk of the Phoenix Coyotes, "It would mean everything in the world to us. They hate us and we hate them. It's going to be a great series. . . . We wanted Canada in the final. There's no point in winning this thing without going through Canada."

Canada (4-1) has played unevenly, beating Russia, losing to the U.S. and edging Slovakia in the first round before eliminating Germany in the quarterfinals. Canada needed double overtime for a 3-2 semifinal victory over Sweden last Saturday, a game in which Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier--both 35--were spent. Gretzky has had a recurrence of his back problems, Messier has a pulled groin muscle.

Canada thinks it can win by playing a physical game. To that end, Coach Glen Sather may use 6-foot-4, 193-pound Detroit forward Keith Primeau and bruising defensemen Lyle Odelein and Ed Jovanovski. Joe Sakic and Eric Lindros, who were expected to take the torch from Gretzky and Messier, have had little impact.

"It's time to get the gloves off and get it on with these guys," Sather said. "It's time for some old-time hockey."

The U.S. (4-0) respects Canada's experience and resilience.

"We're going to have to play great hockey, mistake-free hockey, and capitalize on our chances," defenseman Chris Chelios said. "I don't think it's going to be fun. It's going to be all business."

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