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Eruzione likes what he sees in current U.S. team

by Mike G. Morreale
Mike Eruzione sees two similarities between the United States hockey team that captured gold 30 years ago in Lake Placid and the one that enters medal-round play unbeaten through three games in the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

"In 1980, we were able to win because we had solid goaltending and when we needed to make plays, we made those plays," Eruzione said following Team USA's monumental 5-3 victory over Team Canada in preliminary-round action on Sunday at Hockey Canada Center.

"(Sunday night) was a perfect example of that," Eruzione continued. "The U.S. received solid goaltending and when they needed to make a play, whether it was a goal, blocked shot or an unbelievable play from (Ryan) Kesler to dive across and tap that puck into the empty net late in the game, the U.S. got it. Those are things you have to do in order to win a championship or win a gold medal or medal in general."

Eruzione, of course, captained a group of amateur hockey players coached by Herb Brooks to the 1980 "Miracle on Ice." He scored the winning goal in a 4-3 upset over the Soviet Union on Feb. 22, 1980 before helping lead the Americans to a 4-2 triumph over Finland in the gold-medal game two days later.

Team USA goalie Ryan Miller turned aside 42 Canadian shots in Sunday's victory. Jim Craig finished with 36 saves against the Soviets in 1980 to play a part in one of the most monumental triumphs in American sports history.

That's where the comparisons end, however. Eruzione also saw an American team that certainly wasn't intimidated, which was quite the contrary from the club he led against the Soviets in '80.

"You have to remember, these guys are NHL players," he said. "They're the best of the best. They play against the Canadian teams and some of the guys are teammates with Canadian players so they know what's going to happen out there. It's not like in 1980 -- we were a bunch of college kids out there saying, 'Wow, look who we're playing against.'

"These guys aren't intimidated or taking a back seat to anybody," he said. "They realize how good the Canadians are in terms of their talent, as well as the Russians and Slovaks and everyone else in this tournament. But they have a lot of faith in themselves. Again, these guys are the best NHL players that we have to offer and clearly they went out and showed that, not only are they great players, but they have character and that was a key to the win (on Sunday)."

The success of this year's American squad consisting of scorers, grinders and shot blockers, to name a few, is precisely how Team USA General Manager Brian Burke envisioned it to be and Eruzione isn't at all surprised.

"This is a team built on character players and (Brian) Rafalski, for instance, has more character than anyone you'd want in your locker room," Eruzione said. "Brian Burke put this team together with that in tact, knowing that these guys are going to go out and do a job. Not one player is expected to carry the team, but everyone has a specific job to do. Look at the Canadians. They got all the superstars and everyone has been kind of the go-to guy at one time or another. This (USA) team has guys who understand their role and understand their job. They're able to perform and when you have a goalie like (Ryan) Miller, you're going to be in every game you play."

Even with the huge win against Team Canada, Eruzione warns that the road gets no easier for the young, exuberant Americans.

"I think people are going to realize how difficult it is to win the medal now," Eruzione said. "The U.S. did take a huge step against Canada though -- the road to gold is a little easier in terms of the amount of games to play which might give the U.S. team a little more time to practice and work on different things they'll need to do.

"But there's no question it was a great statement and great opportunity for the U.S. Team to get to that next level. But don't count out the Canadians, Swedes, Finns, or the Russians. It's going to be a grind and a haul to get there but the confidence level in the U.S. locker room right now is high. I guarantee you those players are starting to believe that good things can happen."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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