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Finland Eliminates U.S., 2-1, in Hockey

September 11, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When it was over, after a patient Finnish team rallied for a 2-1 victory over the U.S. in the semifinals of the World Cup of Hockey and Chris Chelios had pulled off his Team USA jersey for the 113th and final time, a clear sense of uncertainty permeated the U.S. locker room at the Xcel Energy Center.

Overshadowing players' frustration over not advancing to Tuesday's final was their unease over the unknown. Without a labor deal in sight before Wednesday's deadline, they couldn't guess when they'd lace up their skates again; they also knew that the next time they unite under the star-spangled banner they will play without Chelios, who declared Friday's game his international finale.

"For me, realistically, I'm done now," said Chelios, 42, a three-time Olympian. "But there's nothing to be embarrassed about. Tonight, they played a solid game defensively. With the goaltending nowadays, it's going to take a deflection or great shot to score. We played hard. There's no selfishness in this team."

There was also little passion Friday and more than a little tentative play in the early going, curious for so experienced a team.

While the Finns clogged the neutral zone and let goalie Miikka Kiprusoff stop the few scoring chances the U.S. produced -- repeating the feats he pulled off during the Calgary Flames' run to the Stanley Cup finals this spring -- they pounced on U.S. mistakes to thwart a roaring crowd of 18,064 and score twice in the third period. They'll play the winner of today's semifinal between Canada and the Czech Republic for the tournament title in Toronto.

"This was our most important victory," former Mighty Duck winger Teemu Selanne said after his team was outshot, 17-12. "When the best plays against the best, it's the biggest.

"We have a small country," he said of his homeland of 5.2 million people. "This is huge."

Although the U.S. scored first, when Scott Gomez's pass through the slot gave Doug Weight an open left side of the net for a power-play goal at 12:57 of the second period, Finland didn't sag. Former King Olli Jokinen evened the score at 5:04 of the third on a shot from the slot, and Selanne helped set up the winner at 16:06, scored from close range by an unchecked Saku Koivu after he corralled a pass from Ossi Vaananen.

Gomez, who grew up watching Chelios, Brett Hull and other U.S. standouts win the first World Cup in 1996, was dismayed that he couldn't stage a happier exit for Chelios -- and, probably, Hull, scratched for the third consecutive game.

"It's disappointing for all of us," Gomez said. "It was a great experience, the past month. It's been incredible.... Who knows when maybe we'll play again? I've got an alumni game in Alaska at my high school and a couple of men's league teams are recruiting me."

The Finns, however, have a place in the final. To Selanne, it makes no difference if they face the Czechs or Canadians. "If we play like the way we played tonight, I can't see any reason why we can't win it all," he said. "When you have a goalie like [Kiprusoff], everything starts from there."

And ends for Chelios.

*

Schedule

The remaining games of the World Cup of Hockey will be televised on ESPN2.

SEMIFINALS

at St. Paul, Minn.

Finland 2, United States 1

Today at Toronto

Czech Republic vs. Canada, 3:30 p.m.

FINAL

Tuesday at Toronto

Championship game, 4 p.m.

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