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Richter: Brooks' passion biggest memory from '02

by Mike G. Morreale
The last time Canada faced the U.S. in the Winter Olympics, the end result was rather anticlimactic.

Canada dominated in a 5-2 victory in the gold-medal game at the '02 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The North American neighbors will renew acquaintances for the first time since then Sunday in a preliminary-round Olympic matchup at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver.

Canada's gold-medal triumph came 50 years to the day an amateur team called the Edmonton Waterloo Mercurys won the nation's last Olympic gold.

By defeating the U.S., Canada ended the U.S. men's team 70-year unbeaten streak on Olympic home ice. In fact, the setback was the first for the United States in 25 Olympic games (21-1-3) on U.S. ice since a 2-1 loss to Canada in 1932.

To this day, the defeat still strikes a nerve with then-Team USA starting goalie, Mike Richter.

"He lived and breathed hockey and was just so competitive. ... If there's anyone we felt deserved a gold medal for all the right reasons, my god, it would have been sweet to win it for Herb."
-- Mike Richter

"At the time you wind up winning the silver, it sounds great, but you lost the game to win the silver," Richter said. "You win the bronze, win the gold and lose the silver and it's very difficult. Ice hockey is such an international game. There's so much pride on the line and it really does matter. People on the outside might say, 'Why shut down the NHL season?' The reason is because you are looking at the cream of the crop. It's not an NHL All-Star Game; it's an All-Star game people really care about that comes down to these guys who are so skilled."

While Richter admits the Canadians certainly deserved the victory, he also felt his club was worn down at the time of the gold-medal game.

"I remember there being a ton of pride after the fact, but disappointment at the moment (of the loss)," Richter said. "We played great hockey. We were an older team and I really believe we got tired as that tournament rolled along. As fate would have it, we ended up against the Russians twice and those were really tough games -- a 2-2 tie and 3-2 win. And then to play Canada was tough.

"They played their best game when we played our least strong game of the tournament. We were a team out of gas."

Still, Richter will never forget the journey he and his teammates shared beside legendary coach Herb Brooks that year. Brooks, incidentally, had been 10-0-2 in Olympic games prior to that loss to Canada.

"It was a different team and different Herb than in 1980, since he wasn't dealing with young college kids but a group of professional NHL vets that he would have for two weeks," Richter said. "That's a very difficult position to be in as a coach. How do you gain their attention? How do you get their ear and have them listen to you? I can't always tell you how, but great coaches know the personality of individual players and the dynamics of a locker room -- Herb Brooks was that type of coach."

Richter was amazed how passionate Brooks remained 22 years after the "Miracle on Ice" in Lake Placid.

"He lived and breathed hockey and was just so competitive," Richter said. "We were playing against the Russians and I remember (Chris) Chelios coming over to me and saying, 'Wow, he's really fired up.' It was a motivating thing to see how much he wanted to win after all he'd been through over the years and his desire to field the best team he could, so the guy knows so much and you always felt like you were in good hands. If there's anyone we felt deserved a gold medal for all the right reasons, my god, it would have been sweet to win it for Herb."

Richter will never forget the phone call he received from Brooks one year prior to the start of the '02 Games.

"I had blown out my knee but since the Games were a year away, it was enough time to recover and play," Richter said. "One of the first phone calls I got was from Herb. My wife actually answered the phone and I thought it was Leetchie (Brian Leetch) screwing around, but it was Herb. He told me he knew I was injured and if there was anything I needed to let him know. I hadn't had too much contact with him to that point because I never played for a team he coached, but he's a gentleman and fantastically supportive.

"It was funny because I could sense he was so fired up. He asked me if I would be talking to any other guys on the team and, in particular, Leetchie. I can still hear him asking me, 'Yeah, tell Leetchie the legs feed the wolf.' I said OK and he asked if I knew what he meant. After a brief pause, I told him I had no idea what he was talking about so he told me, 'If you're not in shape, the wolf can't run down his game, so he can't go and get food if he's not in shape. Get these guys to do just a little bit more since we have an opportunity to do something very large here.' I was just so impressed by his emotion and how much he wanted to win."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale.

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