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US Men's Hockey Team Beats Finland in Olympic Opener - 2002-02-16

After failing to win a medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics, the U.S. men's ice hockey team has beaten Finland 6-0 in the opening game Friday night in Salt Lake City winter olympics. The U.S. team hopes the victory will help to reverse the image of the past Olympics before the home fans.

The last two times the Winter Olympics were held in the United States, the U.S. men's ice hockey won the gold medal. The big question is, can this year's U.S. Olympic men's ice hockey team repeat those two shocking upsets.

Take a look at some of the facts on the 1960 and 1980 teams.

In 1960, the United States' so-called Team of Destiny captured seven straight wins in Squaw Valley, California on the road to gold. That same team had lost to a minor league hockey team less than three weeks before the Olympics started. Twenty years later, in Lake Placid, New York, the United States performed the so-called Miracle on Ice, a colossal victory over the heavily-favored Soviet Union in the semifinals. That U.S. team had an average age of only 22 years old and no professionals like it has now.

Herb Brooks, head coach of the 1980 team, is coaching this U.S. team of National Ice Hockey League stars, a team that has come together only for these Olympics during a break in the NHL schedule.

"The challenge is a little different in the sense that in 1980 we had just a very young team as far as the United States goes," he says. "We had seven months of preparations, what have you. There was a little bit different playing field. I think today's playing field is a tougher playing field from top to bottom."

That's because for the second consecutive Olympics, NHL players are being allowed to compete. The league features players from numerous countries. In fact, star NHL goalie Dominik Hasek led the Czech Republic to the gold medal in 1998. At that time he played for the Buffalo Sabres. He now plays for the Detroit Red Wings.

So does the captain of the U.S. team, Chris Chelios. At these games many NHL teammates are playing against one another. Chelios is actually appearing in his third Olympics. He was on the U.S. team at the last Olympics and in Sarajevo in 1984 when he competed as a college player.

The four other players on the U.S. team making their third Olympic appearance include defenseman Brian Leetch, the captain of the 1988 team, goaltender Mike Richter from the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues forwards Scott Young and Keith Tkachuk.

Coach Brooks employs a system that hinges on strong transition play, smart puck moving by the defensemen, and speed and instinct from the forwards. In Nagano, the USA played very undisciplined, committing many penalties and racing up and down the wider Olympic ice surface. This time the Americans have been under more under control, and not overly aggressive, like they were in 1998.

The U.S. team had a disappointing sixth-place finish in Nagano, but Boston Bruins forward Bill Guerin says that's in the past.

"It's four years ago and we've really just put all our focus on these games, and you know we just want to come out of here with a medal or better than what we did last time," he says. "I mean obviously we have our sights set on a gold medal."

The Olympic field is now down to the six teams which received automatic bids the United States, Canada, Russia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland and the two which came through qualifying here at the games, Belarus and Germany.

All of the games are played at the E-Center, in suburban Salt Lake City, and at The Peaks Ice Arena in Provo, about 70 kilometers from downtown Salt Lake.