WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) -- Herb Brooks against the Russians. This ought to be fun.
For the first time since the Miracle on Ice in 1980, the United States will play a Russian team on home ice in an Olympic hockey game Saturday night. Just as at Lake Placid, Brooks will be behind the American bench -- but the similarities end there.
Brooks will be coaching NHL stars against NHL stars, not unknown college amateurs against arguably the greatest hockey team ever assembled. And the opponent won't be what President Ronald Reagan called the "evil empire" in a communist Soviet Union, but an ally in Russia.
Still, for all the remarkable changes 22 years have brought, most notably the fall of the Soviet regime, the game will bring back a flood of memories and, perhaps, a torrent of emotion.
"I don't have any negative connotation about the U.S.S.R. or the Russians -- I've always looked at them as hockey players, not the hammer and the sickle and the political implications," Brooks said. "This is a chance to measure ourselves against a very talented team."
Still, the very thought of a United States-Russia game -- even if nearly all the players oppose each other nightly in the NHL -- was enough to rouse some patriotic emotions in American John LeClair after his three-goal game Friday in a 6-0 victory over Finland.
"No matter what happens, the rivalry (with Russia) will be there, and that game will be a big challenge for us," LeClair said.
In other games Friday as the big-name teams began play, Sweden was a surprisingly easy 5-2 upset winner over Canada, Russia beat Belarus 6-4 and the defending champion Czech Republic overwhelmed Germany 8-2.
Finland, with fewer NHL players than any of the other so-called "Big Six" teams still playing, never got anything going against the United States. Goalie Jani Hurme kept the Americans scoreless for half the game, but Scott Young's goal started a three-goal second period, and LeClair had two of the three U.S. goals in the third.
"Personally, it's nice to score," said LeClair, who didn't have a goal as the United States went 1-3 without a medal during its chair-smashing fiasco in the 1998 Olympics.
"The guys are really focused on the first three (final round) games," LeClair said. "Momentum is important, and we need all three games."
Russia had a tougher time than expected in beating Belarus.
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