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U.S. men's hockey team bounced by Czechs

Never send a man to do a woman's work.

So are the sentiments - and status - of American hockey here at the 1998 Winter Olympics.Less than 24 hours after the U.S. women captured their sport's first-ever Olympic gold medal, the American men found themselves eliminated from medal contention with a 4-1 drubbing by the Czech Republic in Wednesday's quarterfinals at the Big Hat arena.

Both U.S. teams were expected to compete for the gold medals in their respective events. The U.S. women vanquished, while the U.S. men's team will be vilified in the North American press with headlines like "Czechs bounce U.S." and "Americans canceled by Czechs."

Leading the Czech charge were a pair of NHL headliners - goaltender Dominik Hasek, who minds the nets for the Buffalo Sabres; and Jaromir Jagr, the NHL's long-locks, big-bucks forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After the United States upset Canada in the most recent international competition - the 1996 World Cup of Hockey - American expectations soared in anticipation of Olympic hardware. And if not the gold, then certainly a second-place silver to co-favorite Canada.

Wednesday's loss halts all such grandiose thoughts . . . and tarnishes Team USA's worldwide reputation.

"If you don't win the gold, it doesn't mean anything," said U.S. forward Keith Tkachuk. "It's amazing how things can go so well in one tournament, and you come back and they go so bad for you.

"If you don't win a gold medal, it's a waste of time. . . . It's disappointing because everybody expected us to be there at the end. We expected to be there at the end. But it didn't turn out that way, and it's gonna be a long flight home."

Team USA captain Chris Chelios agreed. "We came in with high expectations, and we never thought we'd find ourselves in this situation. We are very disappointed."

Chelios said talk of the Americans being distracted was off-base. "We haven't spent any time with our families . . . we've heard about the (Zenkoji) temple, we've heard about other things, but no one's actually gone to see anything, so there shouldn't be any distractions."

The Americans seemed focused with strong first-period play, including a goal scored 16 minutes into the game. Tkachuk stole the puck and centered it at mid-ice to Tony Amonte, who drew Czech defenseman Frantisek Kucera and left an open Mike Modano to score the goal.

However, the Americans' attack and advantage quickly disappeared in the second period, as the Czech Republic scored two goals within a minute's span. With 28:21 gone in the game, Jagr's shot was rebounded by Vladimir Ruzicka, who tapped it past goalie Mike Richter for the first score. And 58 seconds later, Jagr did the dipsy-doodle by weaving through the center to snap the puck past Richter for the second score.

The Czechs added a third goal with three and a half minutes left in the period on Martin Rucinsky's counter-attack score. Despite being outshot 14-8 in the period, the Czechs made the most of their few shots on goal.

Jiri Dopita tallied the final Czech goal, an empty-netter with 39 seconds left in the game.

Afterward, the Americans credited the play of Hasek - dubbed "The Dominator" - for preserving the Czech momentum.

"Generally speaking, we controlled the play for almost the whole game in terms of puck control, forechecking, clogging up the neutral zone," said U.S. coach Ron Wilson. "I think we got frustrated that we were only leading one to nothing. We had a number of scoring chances, but Dominik Hasek was just un-be-lievable."

Added Team USA forward Adam Deadmarsh: "We worked hard, but we could not score. Dominik Hasek made unbelievable saves, and you can't win a hockey game when you are only scoring one goal."

In the first Winter Olympics where NHL players were welcome, the United States completed its participation with one win against Belarus against three losses - to 1994 gold-medalist Sweden, 1998 gold favorite Canada and the Czech Republic.

"I don't think by any means Canada outplayed us," Chelios said. "They won, that's the bottom line, and by no means did they (the Czechs) outplay us. We just couldn't score the goals when we needed them."