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WINTER OLYMPICS

Critics Grate on Gretzky

February 19, 2002|J.A. ADANDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — When Canada and the Czech Republic skated to a tie in the Olympics four years ago, the Czechs won in a shootout.

Because Monday's matchup wasn't an elimination game, there was no shootout after the teams finished with a 3-3 tie at the E Center. But the Canadian brass came out firing in the postgame news conference.

General Manager Wayne Gretzky railed against media criticism of his team, questioned the officiating on the ice and was especially outraged by a cross-check by Roman Hamrlik on Canada's Theo Fleury in the waning moments of the game that wasn't called a penalty. Both Gretzky and Canada Coach Pat Quinn implied that it would be open season on Hamrlik once NHL play resumes.

"Am I hot? Yeah, I'm hot," Gretzky said. "I'm tired of people taking shots at Canadian hockey.

"When we do it [act physically], we're hooligans. When Europeans do it, it's OK. That's a bunch of...."

Hamrlik, who had minor brushes with Eric Lindros and Ryan Smith earlier in the game, nailed Fleury after he untangled from Czech goalie Dominik Hasek. Gretzky said Hamrlik should be suspended for the rest of the tournament.

The Canadians complained that it was the type of dirty play that the Canadians used to be criticized for and pined for the vigilante justice of the NHL.

"In our game, if someone does something dirty to you, you respond right away, you beat the ... out of them, whatever it is," Quinn said. "We've talked to our guys, they're showing the discipline--and they're having to take it. That's the cheese-off of it.

"The one nice thing is [before NHL players participated in the Olympics] we had to take those lumps and never could get payback time. But guess what? One week from now, we get all the payback we want."

Said Gretzky: "Now they've got to answer the fiddler."

Gretzky had plenty more. He teed off when a reporter asked him about reported player grumblings about Quinn, calling that: "American propaganda."

To hear Gretzky tell it, the story of the Games might as well be called, "Woe, Canada" after the beatings the Canadians took following their 5-2 loss to Sweden in the first game.

Never mind that the American media seemed fixated on the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" U.S. team, not to mention the current U.S. team's strong start.

"If you want to talk about hockey, you're going to talk about the Canadians," Gretzky said. "We're the biggest story in hockey.

"Now they've got two Canadian stories: figure skaters and the hockey team. It's such a crock....

"Nobody wants us to win but our own players. People don't understand the pressure these guys are under....

"We're still here. We're still standing."

It took a goal by Joe Nieuwendyk with 3:24 remaining in the third just to get Canada a tie.

Although they outshot the Czechs by a 2-1 ratio for most of the game, the Canadians' inability to clear the puck out of their zone allowed the Czechs to get their three goals--two by Martin Havlat.

Mario Lemieux scored two goals for Canada. On his second, Hasek caught the puck against his left side, then fell backward, with part of his body crossing the goal line. The red goal light went on, but the officials called for a video review. The goal stood.

Szymon Szemberg, the media relations manager for the International Ice Hockey Federation, said the play was reviewed again after the game and the tape resolved three major issues.

"First, you could clearly see the puck entering the glove," Szemberg said. "The puck was in the glove. Two, you could clearly see the momentum that carried Dominik Hasek backwards brought the puck over the line. Three, he was not pushed."

When asked what he thought about the play, Czech Coach Josef Augusta playfully replied: "What do you think about it?" then dropped it, saying: "There will be no more speculation. I think it was a goal."

Gretzky, in full attack mode, couldn't keep his answer as simple.

"It was clearly a goal," he said. "There was nothing to review.

"They couldn't skate with us in the third period, they should have had four or five penalties--hooking, tripping."

Canada and the Czech Republic finished with 1-1-1 records, but the Czechs had a better goal differential and will be seeded second from Group C with a quarterfinal matchup against Russia. The Canadians will face Finland in the quarterfinals.

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