USA-Russia showdown captures attention

Feb. 22, 2002 at 1:20 AM
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SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The Olympic men's hockey semifinals will take place Friday and the moment will not be lost on Russian coach Slava Fetisov.

"I told the team to just relax and enjoy the moment and get ready," Fetisov said. "It will be the most watched hockey game in the history of hockey. We are going to sell this game with hockey, not politics.

"This is the biggest stage for hockey."

Russia will meet the United States Friday in the second of the semifinals. The game will be played 22 years to the day that a young group of Americans shocked the Soviet Union en route to the gold medal in Lake Placid.

It will also be played less than a week after the two teams played to a 3-3 tie in the round-robin portion of the Olympic tournament.

On Thursday, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee threatened that athletes from his country might boycott the rest of the Games, including the hockey players, if his concerns about officiating were not addressed.

Fetisov dismissed the threat.

"We are here to bring people together, not pull them apart," he said.

Friday's first game will send Canada against Belarus, which shocked Sweden on Wednesday to earn a spot in the semifinals.

"I had an agent and the best he did for me was Flint (Mich.) in the minor leagues," said Belarus goaltender Andrei Mezin, one of the stars in the victory over Sweden. "I think I can play in the NHL at least as a backup. I think that Canada has a great team, but if we can score first and I can do my job, we have a chance."

"I know all of Canada is praying for us to finally win a gold medal (after 52 years)," said goaltender Martin Brodeur. "But I don't put pressure on myself. In one game anything can happen and their goalie can play. He has proven that."

"Everyone thinks the door is open, but if Belarus does to us what they did to Sweden, we might not even get a medal," said Canadian Coach Pat Quinn. "These guys are big, they are used to the big ice and they have a hot goalie. We have to come out hard, establish our game and get the first goal."

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