(Originally published by the Daily News on Sunday, Feb. 10, 1980; written by Lawrie Mifflin)
The score was 10-3, Russia, and could have been higher if the Soviets had exerted themselves a bit. But that was no surprise. The swiftness, precision and ruthlessness of the Soviet hockey machine’s annihilation of the U.S. Olympic team at the Garden Saturday afternoon came as no surprise, either.
The surprise came afterward, when coach Victor Tikhonov – who also coached the U.S.S.R. national team to its triumph over the NHL All-Stars last February – met the press. Usually, Tikhonov takes a diplomatic approach to these sessions. Not this time.
“We showed what we can do, and they didn’t,” Tikhonov said through an interpreter. Asked what this game had revealed about his own team’s readiness for the Lake Placid Olympics, Tikhonov replied, “To know the real strengths of a team, you must play against strong opposition.”
And when asked if his team’s concept of the match as an exhibition, “a practice game,” meant that the Soviet skaters hadn’t tried their hardest Saturday, Tikhonov smiled smugly and said, “You are quite correct.”
WE ARE ALSO quite surprised. Direct questions about international politics were avoided yesterday, and it would have been impossible to get Tikhonov to say that the United States’ furor over his nation’s military presence in Afghanistan had annoyed him or his team. But it certainly sounded that way.
Except for Tikhonov’s remarks, and perhaps some extra oomph in the Russians’ bodychecking, there were no signs of international antagonism at the Garden. Even the booing and catcalls during the singing of the Soviet anthem sounded half-hearted.
Evidently, the people who showed up (the crowd was announced as 11,243 but appeared smaller) wanted to see a hockey game, not vent their political feelings.
Afterward, they might have hesitated to use the word “game” in describing what they saw. It was more accurately an exhibition, a display of how hockey looks at its best.
THE SCORE WAS 4-0 at the end of the first period. In the second, U.S. captain Mike Eruzione scored a bonafide goal, not a gift, past the famous Vladislav Tretiak’s stick side. But at the end of two, the score was 6-1.
And, when Phil Verchota scored just 3:25 into the third, making it 6-2, the Soviets decided to buckle down and make sure these amateurs didn’t get too uppity. They quickly ran the score up to 9-2.
How quickly? Via three goals in 3:28, bang, bang, bang. Razzle-dazzle stuff, too – especially the first of those three, a short-handed breakaway by Alexander Maltsev, backward-spinning pirouette worthy of Linda Fratianne or, more appropriately, Charlie Tickner.
“I said to the guys on the bench, ‘Did you see that?'” Herb Brooks, the U.S. coach admitted later.
Goalkeeper Steve Janaszak saw it from close range – and was mesmerized. Janaszak split the game with Jim Craig, the Boston U. grad who is the U.S. team’s first-string netminder; each of them allowed five goals.
THE TROUNCING COULD be demoralizing for the young, green Americans, but Brooks doesn’t think so. First of all, he says they all expected to get beaten – everyone expects the Russians to beat everyone else in Lake Placid, too. Secondly, as Brooks puts it, “Sometimes a real butt-kicking is good for a quality team or a quality athlete.”
“Anyway, I’m not worried about the Russians,” he added. “I’m worried about the Czechs and the Swedes, the teams we’ve got a chance to beat, the teams we have to beat. I don’t mean to sound defeatist, but you’ve got to combine idealism with pragmatism, and practically speaking, we don’t have a chance to beat the Russians. “We’ve got 10 kids who could still be playing in college (the team’s average age is 22) right now, and they’ve got a team that beat the NHL’s best players last year, a team with half-a-dozen guys from ’72 still playing.”
The most famous Soviet forward line – Petrov, Mikhailov and Kharlamov – accounted for three goals Saturday. But it was one of the new, rising Russian stars who scored a hat trick – 19-year-old Vladimir Krutov.
Sometimes a real butt-kicking is good for a quality team or a quality athlete.
His second goal was the most stunning – he roared past defenseman Bill Baker like a locomotive passing a signpost, then put three shifty dekes on Craig and left the poor goalie sprawled helplessly on the wrong side of the crease as Krutov tucked the puck behind him.
THAT WAS IN the midst of the four-goal first period. After that session, Brooks said, his players sat in the dressing room “with their mouths hanging open.”
“I said, ‘Don’t worry, don’t panic,'” Brooks recalled. “I told them it doesn’t mean anything. It’s our last game of spring training, we’ve played 60 games in this training time, and none of them means anything. Tuesday, it means something.”
Tuesday at 5 p.m., the U.S. team meets Sweden in what will be a tough opening test. The field of 12 teams split into two divisions, each of which plays a round-robin format with the top two teams advancing to the medal round.
The U.S. is in a division with Czechoslovakia, Sweden, West Germany, Romania and Norway; the Czechs and the Swedes will be their toughest opponents.
The Russians head the other division, filled out with Canada, Finland (said to be a stronger team than originally anticipated), Holland, Poland and Japan.
Boston-bred Eruzione, Minnesotans Verchota and Steve Christoff were American goal-scorers Saturday, Christoff getting his on power play late in third period.
Recommended article: Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.
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