by Phil Coffey - Courtesy of www.nhl.comUNITED STATES VS. RUSSIA
West Valley City, Utah -- Brian Rolston has heard it all before. The United States center grew up playing hockey in the glow of what the 1980 U.S. Olympic team accomplished on the ice at Lake Placid.
Today, Rolston is in his second Olympic Games as a member of Team USA and he is eager to see what the 2002 U.S. team can achieve on its own. But with Herb Brooks back behind the U.S. bench and the Americans having already played the Russians to a 2-2 tie in the Final Round, and now set to face them again in the semifinals Friday, Rolston and Team USA can't avoid the comparisons.
"With all due respect, 1980 is 1980," Rolston said. "There won't be any more miracles on ice. That was something very special. This is a completely different playing environment."
But who can resist the fact that the Americans and Russians will meet 22 years to the day after Mike Eruizone and company shocked the sports world in Lake Placid? Well, the Americans, that's who. As Rolston pointed out, these are different times. The U.S. and Russian squads are both chock full of NHL stars, so there is familiarity, but no a lot of contempt.
"That was a heck of a game the other night," Dallas Stars center Mike Modano said of the 2-2 tie between the teams in the Final Round of Olympics. "There was a lot of speed. Nikolai Khabibulin has been hard to get at. Their defense is solid and their goaltending is outstanding."
And their coach, Slava Fetisov, would dearly love to end all this 1980 talk. Fetisov played on the Soviet Union squad at Lake Placid and being denied by Brooks 22 years ago stands out as one of the rare failures in a career of distinction and achievement.
_________________________________________CANADA VS. BELARUS
West Valley City, Utah -- Belarus has become the darling of the 2002 Winter Olympic hockey tournament and with good reason. Belarus won a spot as a qualifier after the Preliminary Round of the tournament, then gave the Russians all they could handle in a 6-4 loss and took a couple losses on the chin in the Final Round.
All of which set the stage for one of the greatest upsets in Olympic hockey history as Belarus stunned heavily favored Sweden, 4-3, Wednesday. The winning margin came about when an 80-foot slap shot by Vladimir Kopat eluded Swedish goalie Tommy Salo with 2:24 remaining.
Friday afternoon, Belarus will be back in action against Canada. It's safe to say that Team Canada won't be taking this foe lightly.
"After what we have gone through, we are taking nothing for granted," Canadian forward Steve Yzerman said. "Belarus is big and small and they skate well. We know it will be a tough game."
"We watched a bit of (their game against Sweden) and it was kind of a shock," Canadian forward Ryan Smyth said. "It is too bad for one of my (Edmonton Oiler) teammates, Tommy Salo, who let in that goal from the red line. It's a heartbreaker for them, but Belarus worked hard. They don't quit. They don't give up. They are hungry and they want to succeed at the next level. That is what we have to be prepared for."
"It has been a miracle for us," Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin said. "Sometimes even a gun without the bullets shoots and that was us."
Well, Belarus better find something to defend itself with since it can't count on Canadian goalie Martin Brodeur to allow any bad goals in this one.
But Canada has some issues of its own. The goaltending has been fine. Defensive play has been excellent. Teamwork among the various NHL stars gets better with each passing shift. But goals have been hard to come by, making the results of its games closer than you would expect from a team with this kind of firepower. But a win is a win is a win, and Canada is finding the way to win in Salt Lake City.
Belarus faces some very long odds as they meet what is in essence an NHL All-Star team that is very, very aware of what Belarus can do to ruin your day.For these complete stories, visit www.nhl.com