Hockey: Russians keep USA winless in World Cup
By Kevin Allenspach
ST. PAUL -- The Americans entered the World Cup of Hockey with the
oldest roster among the eight teams involved.
After Thursday's 3-1 loss to Russia at the Xcel Energy Center, goalie
Robert Esche looked like he needed an I.V., coach Ron Wilson looked
like he added a few gray hairs, and Team USA's hopes of defending its
World Cup championship appeared to be on life support unless
tonight's final pool-play game against Slovakia ends in a victory.
Esche made 42 saves and was one of few bright spots for the
Americans, who were thoroughly pounded by the Russians. He couldn't
help a fluke goal from Dainius Zubrus, one that went in off the skate
of defenseman Chris Chelios. And possibly no goalie who ever lived
would've stopped Alex Kovalev's masterpiece early in the third period
that stood up as the game-winner.
"At the end of the day, I could care less if I gave up nine goals or
one goal or got a shutout," said Esche, who also looked brilliant in
Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Canada in Montreal -- making 32 saves. "You're
brought up in the States to only think about winning. Right now I'm 0-
So the first World Cup game ever held in Minnesota results in Team
USA's first loss to Russia in three meetings in World Cup/Canada Cup
competition since 1987, when the former Soviet Union beat the
That's enough reason for Wilson, who coached USA to gold in the 1996
World Cup, to make changes before it's too late. While Mike Modano
set up Keith Tkachuk for the United States' only goal, tying the game
1-1 late in the second period, Wilson made it clear no one is safe.
"We've got five fresh pair of legs we've got to get in there and
shake up the chemistry of our room," said Wilson, whose players
average 31.6 years old -- compared to 27 years old forRussia. "It was
strange to see our team not have the belief or confidence that they
can handle a team with that much skill. We have to take the emotion
out of any decision-making. Some people haven't performed and our
team doesn't have time to wait for people to kick it into gear.
That's my job to make some changes that probably won't be popular ...
you can't play on your reputation, you have to play on the ice."
Wilson wouldn't single out any individuals for good or poor play,
other than to say it would've been worse without his 26-year-old
goalie. And Esche will get today off to rest. Rick DiPietro, a 22-
year-old former Boston University goalie now with the New York
Islanders, will start instead. If the U.S. loses, and is matched
against Canada in the quarterfinals, that game would be in Toronto
instead of St. Paul on Tuesday.
Fresh legs can make a difference. Ask the Russians, who were missing
several of their big stars -- most notably goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
They were playing their first game of the tournament and dominated
Team USA through much of the first period, outshooting the Americans
14-4. Brett Hull and Doug Weight each missed the net on point-blank
one-timers, bringing the first "USA! USA!" chants 12 minutes in.
Just after the Americans began to gain momentum in the second, they
got a bad bounce that gave Russia a 1-0 lead at 12:20. Zubrus, a
right wing for the Washington Capitals, swooped around behind the net
and, from near the left post, shoveled the puck into the crease. The
wobbling puck doinked the toe of Chelios' left skate and went behind
Chelios, Team USA's 42-year-old captain and player with the most
games of international competition (101), looked toward the roof as
his shoulders sagged.
"They had energy, we didn't," Chelios said. "I have no explanation
for it other than that sometimes you get tired as a team. You get
outshot and outplayed that bad, that's all I can attribute to it. I
don't think they're that good, and I don't think we're that bad."
Modano, who was hit in the leg with a shot Tuesday and wasn't
supposed to play, then almost single-handedly erased the deficit.
Twelve seconds after drawing a penalty, Modano and Tkachuk clicked
with a laser-like cross-ice pass redirected past the outstretched leg
and blocker of Russian goalie Ilya Brzygalov.
But early in the third, Chelios fell in the offensive zone, leaving
forward Tony Amonte to defend Kovalev -- one of the most dangerous
and skilled scorers in the world -- on the rush the other way. He
curled at the U.S. blue line, undressed Amonte, faked Esche and put a
shot from the left of the crease just inside the right post under the
The goal light didn't even go on. Referee Paul Devorski ruled the
puck went in, and there was little dispute.
"That was an incredible goal," said captain Alexei Yashin, who has
scored a few in his day, too. "We've played together since we were
young, so I've seen that type of goal before from (Kovalev). At that
point in the game, we were going to take any goal. But that one was
Viktor Kozlov caught Esche moving with a long wrist shot five-hole in
the final two minutes to short-circuit any comeback. The Americans
showed their frustration, with Tkachuk taking an elbowing major and
"We were really embarrassed," Tkachuk said.
"I still think these guys can get the job done," Wilson said of his
players. "We've got to take simple steps. That thought (that they're
too old) is in the back of your mind sometimes. Some of them are
writing checks that our legs and bodies can't cash anymore. We just
need to make the simple play."
World Cup notebook
* Local connections in the World Cup include three Minnesotans
playing for Team USA: Minneapolis native Paul Martin, who played at
the University of Minnesota, Moorhead native Jason Blake, who played
at the University of North Dakota, and Duluth native Jamie
Langenbrunner. Martin and Langenbrunner were both scratched from
Thursday's lineup. Thursday was Blake's 31st birthday.
* Minnesota Wild forward Brian Rolston, who signed with the Minnesota
Wild this summer, also plays for Team USA. Wild forward Marian
Gaborik plays for Slovakia, which will play the Americans today at
the Xcel Center.
Russia 0 1 2 -- 3
United States 0 1 0 -- 1
First period scoring:
Penalties: USA -- Aaron Miller (tripping) 6:59; RUS -- Sergei Gonchar
(holding) 9:20; USA -- Brett Hull (high-sticking) 13:13.
Second period scoring:
1. RUS -- Dainius Zubrus 1 (Oleg Kvasha, Alexei Yashin) 12:20; 2.
USA -- Keith Tkachuk 1 (Mike Modano, Brian Rafalski) 13:44 (pp).
Penalties: RUS -- Alex Kovalev (tripping) :14; RUS -- Andrei
Kovalenko (hooking) 13:32; RUS -- Ilya Bryzgalov (delay of game)
Third period scoring:
3. RUS -- Kovalev 1 (Alexander Khavanov) 5:05; 4. RUS -- Viktor
Kozlov 1 (Sergei Samsanov) 18:02.
Penalties: RUS -- Yashin (holding) 5:36; USA -- Bill Guerin
(slashing) 7:19; RUS -- Alexander Frolov (holding) 7:19; USA --
Tkachuk (boarding) 15:14; USA -- Chris Chelios (cross-checking)
16:17; RUS -- Ilya Kovalchuk (cross-checking) 16:17; USA -- Tkachuk
(elbowing, game misconduct) 18:59; USA -- Guerin (roughing) 18:59;
RUS -- Zubrus (roughing) 18:59; RUS -- Darius Kasparaitis (roughing)
Shots on goal: RUS -- 16-13-16--45; USA -- 4-10-7--21. Goalies: RUS --
Ilya Bryzgalov (20 saves); USA -- Robert Esche (42 saves). Referees:
Paul Devorski and Brad Watson. Linesmen: Brian Murphy and Tim Nowak.