Sweden, USA record impressive wins

Feb. 16, 2002 at 12:46 AM
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SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Mats Sundin scored twice and Sweden used the large international ice surface to down Canada Friday night, 5-2, and demonstrate it could be in the running for its second gold medal in three Olympics.

The United States then put together an impressive 6-0 victory over Finland with John Leclair turning in a hat trick and Mike Dunham recording the shutout. After a scoreless first period, the United States ripped off three goals in an eight-minute stretch of the second to turn the game into a rout.

That set up an American meeting Saturday night against Russia, which opened the final round-robin portion of the Olympic hockey tournament with a less-than-impressive, 6-4 win over qualifier Russia.

In the other game Friday, the defending champion Czech Republic crushed Germany 8-2. Wins and losses in the round-robin portion mean little other than pride and to determine a team's opponent in the quarterfinals.

The Olympic ice surface is 15 feet longer and 12 feet wider than the standard rink in the National Hockey League and it creates much more space for defensemen to cover.

Sundin scored his two goals on his regular Toronto teammate Curtis Joseph.

"The next time, he might stone me," Sundin said. "(Swedish goaltender) Tommy Salo held us in the first period and stopped them when they tried to rally in the third.

"It's a different game on the bigger ice surface because without the red line, you can make passes from your own end to the far blue line. It's tough to defend against this because you have to watch your back. The Canadian NHL players are not used to this and our kids grow up with it in Europe."

"I call it big ice hockey," Swedish coach Hardy Nilsson said. "We want to keep the puck and create a lot of space and ice to move it on. We sent our forwardsto the offensive blue line and had fun hitting them with passes."

"We have three games and five days to get this straightened out," Canada coach Pat Quinn said. "They beat us soundly. We have offensively talented defensemen, but they are going to have to play defense and get their hands dirty or we will be going home Wednesday and won't make the medal round."

In the day's opening game, Russian goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, having been awarded an overdue gold medal in practice the day before, struggled Friday, but his teammates bailed him out.

Khabibulin was the backup goaltender in 1992, when the Unified Team won the Olympic gold medal. The coach of that team, Viktor Tikhonov, kept Khabibulin's gold medal.

During practice on Thursday, however, Khabibulin was awarded a gold medal in a ceremony arranged by long-time Soviet and Russian defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov, now the Russian general manager.

Khabibulin did not play well Friday, allowing two soft goals. Neither did the Belarus starter, Sergei Shabanov, who was pulled after the first period, during which he allowed three goals.

"It's hard to be satisfied with my performance, but we got the win and that's all that counts," Khabibulin said "We play the USA tomorrow and that will be a tough game because the crowd will be with them. I have to play better and we must make some defensive adjustments."

"Belarus played a very good game," said Fetisov. "We were lucky to win. We had one practice and I would like to have a three-week training camp.

"They have the advantage of having played together a long time."

"We won, but there has to be adjustments made for tomorrow's game," said Russian center Alexei Yashin. "Belarus played hard and played a good game. We will do better."

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