- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) Russia vs. the United States the game so many wanted to see again. Belarus vs. Canada the game nobody thought they would ever see.

That implausible matchup today is another of the peculiarities in an Olympic hockey tournament in which three of the four semifinalists the United States, Canada and Russia were expected to get this far, yet took wildly divergent paths to do so.

There were Wayne Gretzky's daily rants that the world was against Canada and a fluke goal that caromed off a goalie's head to seal the biggest upset since Lake Placid, Belarus over Sweden.

And consider this: Czech goalie Dominik Hasek, the star of Nagano, has departed, but Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin, an obscure minor leaguer for years, is still playing.

And this: Canada may get to the gold medal game without beating any of the other top five teams: the United States, Sweden, the Czech Republic or Russia. Their only victories are over Finland and Germany.

There's one other development that wasn't expected: those chair-busting Americans who played poorly but partied hard in Nagano without winning a medal are the only remaining unbeaten team (3-0-1).

Of course, Gretzky, the Team Canada executive director who has been as visible in Salt Lake City as the Wasatch Mountains, cautioned yesterday that such a record at this stage means nothing.

"In 1998, we were 4-0 and they were saying we were the greatest Canadian team ever, but we lost (to the Czechs) and, before we knew it, we were gone," Gretzky said.

Despite the dangers of overlooking a clearly inferior but motivated opponent Belarus 4, Sweden 3 is a perfect example Gretzky playfully dismissed any suggestion that what happened to Sweden could also occur to Canada.

Gretzky laughed when told forward Theo Fleury said Canada was the underdog because Belarus beat a team that easily beat Canada.

"This is one time I'm comfortable saying we're the overwhelming favorites," Gretzky said. "They (Belarus) are thrilled to be where they're at, and our guys are ready."

The Americans have been here before today is the 22nd anniversary of the most famous U.S. hockey game ever, the 4-3 upset of the Soviet Union hockey dynasty in the Lake Placid Olympics.

But for all this talk of history repeating itself, of destiny colliding with reality, U.S. coach Herb Brooks also the coach in 1980 will hear none of it.

To Brooks, 1980 is a pleasant memory of a bunch of mostly college kids who came together to achieve the seemingly impossible by beating the powerful Soviet Union super team, but has no relevance to the NHL-dominated Olympics of today.

"Slava (Fetisov, the Russian coach) came up to me in the cafeteria and said 22 years ago we were playing, and what did I think," Brooks said yesterday. "I told him I can't think that far back.

"… But those were 20-year-old kids going against the best team in the world, and these are sophisticated, highly skilled, highly paid NHL players … other than the Olympics, nothing else is the same."

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