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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2002

U.S. holds off Russians

BY LORI SHONTZ
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - On this continent, the results of yesterday's Olympic men's hockey semifinals were just that - results. Canada 7, Belarus 1. United States 3, Russia 2.

On the other side of the world, however, the results may be considered additional evidence of a vast, North American conspiracy.

“This was designed to have a Canadian-U.S. final,” said Russian coach Viacheslav Fetisov, who joined his comrades in figure skating and cross-country skiing - and those who run his country's national Olympic Committee - in decrying what they see as a bias toward the United States and Canada during these Games.

Twenty-two years to the day since the classic clash between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, emotions still ran high after the game.

Displeased at what they considered to be biased officiating, Russian defensemen Darius Kasparitis and Danny Markov berated the officials before they left the ice, and Markov was assessed a gross misconduct for verbally abusing the officials and grabbing his crotch. He will be suspended for today's bronze-medal game with Belarus.

The biggest point of contention occurred midway through the third period, with the Americans clinging to a 3-2 lead. During a flurry of activity Russian forward Sergei Samsonov took a shot that bounced off the post and skidded to the side. The Russians thought, the puck went into the net.

The officials didn't. They didn't even consider the play controversial enough to review it.

The Russians were also unhappy that a penalty was not called on U.S. defenseman Chris Chelios for a hit on Samsonov in the third period.

“They're professional referees, they live here, they know the players, Americans and Canadians,” Fetisov said. “I know, in crucial situations, it's human reaction, in those situations they are not going to call it a penalty.”

Only Russia's goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin, who plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning, struck a conciliatory note. “I think the refereeing in all was pretty fair,” he said, “and we should not try to look for some fault with the refereeing.”

He was then berated by a Russian journalist for answering questions in English.

The Russians could have eliminated the situation by playing better early. The Americans came out aggressively, getting off five shots in the first 21/2 minutes and not slackening their pace for the first two periods.

They scored all three of their goals during the first two periods, all on the power play.

The first came on a 20-foot wrist shot from Bill Guerin at 15:56 of the first period, the next from Scott Young during a flurry in front of the Russian goal at 7:31 of the second period and the third from defenseman Phil Housley at 17:39 of the second period.

The Russians didn't really get started until the final period, when they scored twice in the first 3:21. Penguins forward Alexi Kovalev scored Russia's first goal just 11 seconds into the period, followed by defenseman Vladmir Malakhov's goal.

“I wasn't really happy with that first shift,” U.S. coach Herb Brooks said. “If you give these people that kind of room, they're going to take advantage.”

The final 20 minutes was classic hockey.

“That was the best game I've ever been in,” U.S. forward Jeremy Roenick said.

U.S. goalie Mike Richter, however, shut out the Russians the rest of the way to preserve the victory.

That set up what could be a classic gold medal game tomorrow.

“It's great that it's Canada and the U.S.,” U.S. defenseman Brian Leetch said. “It makes for a great story. It's perfect. It's what everyone was hoping for.”

Except the Russians.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Lori Shontz is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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