U.S. hockey searches for answers after being eliminated

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Finland beat the Americans 4-3 in the quarterfinal contest.

TURIN, Italy -- Mike Modano took no shots in the loss that bounced the U.S. men's hockey team from the Olympics.

He saved his best one for afterward.

The three-time Olympian was benched for most of the third period in the Americans' 4-3 loss Wednesday night to Finland in the quarterfinals. Then he took aim at the people who put the disappointing squad together.

"You'd think USA Hockey would be a well-oiled machine, but it's not," he said. "Basically we were on our own for hotels, tickets, flights, stuff like that.

"Normally, we wouldn't have to worry about stuff like that."

The Americans came out flat in the opening period Wednesday, allowing Sami Salo's short-handed goal that gave Finland a 2-0 lead. Modano scored two goals in the tournament, yet was a nonfactor in the finale, when he didn't so much as put a puck on the net.

"It's very disappointing, because the people at USA Hockey do a tremendous job," general manager Don Waddell said of Modano's comments. "There is a lot of pressure on people. The top people at USA Hockey are volunteers."

U.S. coach Peter Laviolette didn't think enough of Modano's performance to have him on the ice during crunch time.

He certainly was less pleased with the forward's Olympic exit interview.

"We were down looking for goals and looking for offense, and it wasn't about Mike Modano," he said. "The third period was clearly our best period. ... I think some players in general didn't seem to have the jump, and you do your best to get the players out there that have the jump."

Waddell choked back tears as he tried to explain why the team he built was bounced out of the games with just one win and no medals.

"We came here with higher expectations, and it's disappointing. But you have to move on," the Atlanta Thrashers general manager said.

But difficult travel plans and just two days from the time the NHL broke for the Olympics until the first game were hardly the reasons Laviolette was forced to call timeout before 11 minutes elapsed against Finland. His club was behind 1-0 and in danger of being swept off the ice by an undefeated team.

"I don't know if we were nervous, but we came out flat," said New Jersey forward Brian Gionta, who scored a team-high four goals.

The Americans (1-4-1) will try to figure out why they managed only one win after capturing the silver medal four years ago in Salt Lake City.

"We're out of the tournament, but it's not like we have to blow it up and start over," Waddell said.

"We never seemed to get it on track throughout the tournament," Laviolette said. "From the start tonight, I thought we were standing instead of skating."

All four U.S. losses were by one goal.

Finland had eliminated the United States during the semifinals of the World Cup of Hockey in 2004. It was the Finns' first victory in these Olympics decided by fewer than two goals.

"We know we can beat anybody when we play on our level, and we didn't even have to play that well tonight," Finland's Teemu Selanne said.

Russia blanks Canada

A disgusted Wayne Gretzky headed for the exits shortly after Alex Kovalev's power play goal sealed Canada's ouster from the Olympics late in the third period.

A classic rivalry made for the best hockey game in the Turin Olympics so far, and once again, Canada couldn't beat Russia when it counted.

Alexander Ovechkin, an NHL player for only a few months, scored the pivotal first goal 90 seconds into the third period and Russia rode goaltender Evgeni Nabokov's superb game to a 2-0 quarterfinal victory over gold medal favorite Canada.

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