Fri, Feb 24, 2006 - Page 23 News List

US, Canada tamed in hockey shockers

UNDER-ACHIEVERS The top two teams from four years ago were sent packing on Wednesday as Russia dealt Canada a 2-0 loss, while Finland dispatched the US 4-3

AP , TURIN, ITALY

Wayne Gretzky's hand-picked club fell way short, his aging corps of veterans unable to match up with speedier Europeans. The US suffered the same fate, departing Italy with only one victory.

It was a whole lot of underachievement by the two North American teams who won gold and silver just four years ago.

"We didn't play well enough. We didn't deserve to win," Canada captain Joe Sakic said of the defending gold medalists. "The level was a lot higher than it was in 2002."

Finland dispatched the US team 4-3 on Wednesday night to advance to the semifinals, and Canada was eliminated a few hours later in a 2-0 loss to Russia.

Four years ago, Canada knocked off the US to win the title in Salt Lake City. That ended the hockey-crazed nation's 50-year wait for a gold medal in its native sport.

It also erased the bitter taste the two North American countries had to endure from the 1998 Nagano Games when neither won a medal in the first Olympics that featured an NHL midseason break.

"I know we gave our best, everybody gave a great effort, but we didn't put it together like we needed to," US forward Bill Guerin said after the US' fourth one-goal loss in the tournament. "It's one of those things you just don't want to walk away from."

Now they will have to watch four European nations face off for the gold.

Today Russia (5-1) will take on unbeaten Finland in one semifinal, and the Czech Republic (3-3), which defeated Slovakia 3-1, will play Sweden, the 6-2 winners Wednesday over Switzerland.

The Czech-Sweden matchup will have extra juice because it will pit several New York Rangers against each other. Sweden will send goalie Henrik Lundqvist out to try to stop the likes of forwards Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka and Martin Rucinsky.

"It doesn't matter. We just have to face Sweden," Jagr said of the world champion Czechs.

Two big reasons the Rangers are in first place in the Atlantic Division are Jagr, who leads the NHL with 40 goals and 88 points, and Lundqvist -- a rookie who has posted 25 wins and a 2.09 goals-against average.

"I know him, and he's a big part of our hockey club and it's going to be a big challenge," Jagr said.

Clearly, at least one US player felt his club faced too many challenges from team leadership.

Mike Modano, a three-time Olympian, was benched for most of the third period of the US team's last loss and then took aim at his bosses.

"You'd think USA Hockey would be a well-oiled machine, but it's not," he said. "Basically we were on our own for hotels, tickets, flights, stuff like that.

"Normally we wouldn't have to worry about stuff like that."

The Americans came out flat in the opening period on Wednesday, allowing Sami Salo's short-handed goal that gave Finland a 2-0 lead. Modano scored two goals in the tournament, yet was a non-factor in the quarterfinal, when he didn't so much as put a puck on the net.

"It's very disappointing, because the people at USA Hockey do a tremendous job," general manager Don Waddell said of Modano's comments. "There is a lot of pressure on people. The top people at USA Hockey are volunteers."

US coach Peter Laviolette didn't think enough of Modano's performance to have him on the ice during crunch time.

He certainly was less pleased with the forward's Olympic exit interview.

"We were down looking for goals and looking for offense, and it wasn't about Mike Modano," Laviolette said.

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