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USA hockey team wins Olympic group

Feb. 18, 2002 at 11:37 PM   |   Comments

SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Brett Hull ended a frustrating American start Monday by finally scoring early in the second period, igniting the United States to an 8-1 crushing of Belarus that wrapped up the No. 1 in its round-robin group.

Finland then surprised Russia, 3-1; Canada and the defending champion Czech Republic skated to a 3-3 tie and Sweden overwhelmed Germany, 7-1.

Those results established Wednesday's quarterfinals, where a team must win in order to have a chance at a medal.

The quarterfinals will begin at 1 p.m. EST with Sweden taking on Belarus. Then will come Russia vs. the Czech Republic at 3:30 p.m., the United States vs. Germany at 6 p.m. and Finland vs. Canada at 10:15 p.m.

The Americans and Swedes will be heavy favorites while the other two games will be considered close to tossups. And the weight will be heavy on the shoulders of the Canadians, who won only one of their three round-robin games with that one being a tougher-than-expected, one-goal decision over lightly-regarded Germany.

"There is a lot of pressure on our team because we want the gold medal and so does all of Canada," said superstar Mario Lemieux, who scored twice in his team's 3-3 tie with the Czechs Monday.

"People have a right to say what they want to say, but we know as a team we have a great hockey club and if we put our minds to it and play the way we did tonight, things look good for us," defenseman Ed Jovanovski said.

American coach Herb Brooks used his third different goalie in as many games and Tom Barrasso fanned on the first shot he faced from Dimitry Pankov just 20 seconds into the contest.

Belarus goaltender Andrei Mezin, meanwhile, played a spectacular first period, stopping all 15 shots he saw with many of the saves being acrobatic ones.

But just 46 seconds into the second period, Hull ripped a slap shot past Mezin and the Americans added two goals in the next seven minutes -- both from John Leclair.

The United States outshot Belarus, 48-13.

"Getting the first goal was vital because their goalie was playing out of his mind," Hull said. "We ran them up at the end and I think we are in good shape on the goal differential to get the No. 1 seed."

Scott Young and Bill Guerin also scored twice each for the Americans with Guerin delivering the final two goals of the game.

Leclair played on a line with Hull and Mike Modano and that combination turned things around in the second period.

"I am happy to get in front and score on the rebounds when we have Brett Hull in the slot with such great hands and vision," said Leclair, who produced a hat trick in a win over Sweden last week. "There is much more room in front and our power play has different assignments so I am getting room in front."

"They held us off for a period and we got off sluggishly," Brooks said. "Tom let in the first shot, then played great. If they get ahead by two goals, you never know. Hull is a great threat from the slot and Leclair is a dynamic, strong power forward who is enjoying some room in front."

Mezin took the setback in good spirits.

"I enjoyed playing against them," the Belarus goaltender said. "They are the quickest team we have ever played. I held them off for a while, but they had too many chances."

Finland gave up a first-period goal to Russia and then surrendered only 15 shots over the final two periods while Teemu Selanne, Mikko Eloranta and Jere Lehtinen scored. After suffering a one-sided loss to the United States in its first game, Finland has rebounded and should provide Canada a major challenge.

Canada claimed its tie against the Czechs when Joe Nieuwendyk took a pass from Theo Fleury in the slot and beat Dominik Hasek with less than four minutes to go.

The second Canadian goal was a controversial one, involving Hasek stopping a shot from Lemieux between his pads and then falling back across the line. Although the puck was not visible on replay, the review judge finally allowed the goal.

"I thought the puck was in," Lemieux said. "Dominik's body was over the goal line. It was in his glove and obviously the referee could not see the puck. I was afraid on the replay they could not see the puck, but it was obviously over the line."

In the fnial game of the night, Sweden scored twice in the first six minutes and outshot the Germans, 44-20.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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