- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky lashed out yesterday at critics of his Olympic hockey team, saying other countries especially the United States revel in Canadian failure.

Gretzky was discussing a come-from-behind 3-3 tie with the Czech Republic that gave Canada a seemingly much more favorable quarterfinal matchup tomorrow against Finland when he suddenly went on a tirade.

"It's comical. It almost sickens my stomach to turn on the TV. It makes me ill to hear what's being said about Canadian hockey," said Gretzky, widely acknowledged as hockey's greatest player ever. "Am I hot? Yeah. I'm tired of people taking shots at Canadian hockey."

Other countries, he said, "hate us. … The Americans love our poor start. They love it when we're not doing well. I don't think we dislike those countries as much as they hate us. They don't like us and they want to see us fail.

"Nobody wants us to win but our players and our loyal fans. We're very proud, and I guarantee you we'll be standing tall at the end."

Canada, despite a roster featuring 20 current or former NHL All-Stars, played terribly in a 5-2 loss to Sweden and a tense 3-2 victory over lightly regarded Germany before tying the defending gold medalist Czech Republic. The Czechs beat Canada 2-1 in a shootout in the 1998 Olympic semifinals.

Gretzky's impassioned remarks seemed to reflect the pressure that he, coach Pat Quinn and their players are under to deliver Canada's first gold medal in 50 years in its national sport.

Canadian newspapers were filled with critical articles and analysis following each of Canada's first two games, and even Gretzky himself issued a harsh rebuke after a noncompetitive 5-2 loss to Sweden, calling it "devastating, terrible."

"The pressure and expectations on this team are probably far greater than any other team in this tournament," Gretzky said.

Gretzky also suggested there is a double standard in which any physical play by Canadians is criticized as overly aggressive "hooliganism," but that it is tolerated from European players.

He was especially unhappy that Czech defenseman Roman Hamrlik of the New York Islanders wasn't penalized or suspended after spearing Canadian forward Theo Fleury late in yesterday's game.

"If a Canadian does it, it's big news … we're goons," he said. "If a European does it, it's OK, because they're not tough or dirty."

Gretzky also warned of possible retaliation when the Rangers and Islanders play, saying, "They should remember there's payback in this game and it won't be pretty. I wouldn't want to be in that Islanders-Rangers game next week."

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