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U.S. hockey fans to face sellouts and closed doors

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Tickets remain for 37 of the 55 men's and women's ice hockey matches to be played Feb. 9-24 during the 2002 Winter Games.

But acquiring tickets for any of the 11 pre-Olympic exhibition games scheduled Feb. 2-7 for the Salt Lake Valley in the week before the Games is impossible.

That's because the Salt Lake Organizing Committee has decided not to allow the public to attend those contests.

The cheapest ticket to an Olympic hockey game is $45, and many of the best ones — including the men's gold-medal game and all games involving the U.S. men — are sold out.

Now SLOC's decision has dashed any chance that locals might catch an inexpensive glimpse of some of the same teams in pre-Olympic practice games.

"We really debated on whether to take on the challenge of hosting these exhibition games and practice sessions, and we decided the best thing to do is focus on the athletes and continue to prepare for the Games," said Dan Moro, SLOC's director of ice hockey.

"The public (access) would just force us to get things ready far sooner than we could or should."

The media, however, will be invited to all eight men's practice games and all three women's contests.

Family members and friends of the players will be invited to the four games scheduled for the Acord Ice Center and the single game planned for the Salt Lake County Ice Center in Murray.

But they will not be allowed to attend the three E Center exhibitions or the three practice games planned for the Peaks Ice Arena. Officials want those facilities — where both men's and women's Olympic games will be played — free of distractions so preparations can be fine-tuned.

On the sports side of things alone, 115 paid and volunteer staff members will work the exhibitions at the E Center, and 78 will be on hand for the practice games at the Peaks.

There will be one opportunity for Utahns to see an international hockey game in the week prior to the Games. On Feb. 5 at 5:15 p.m., the men's teams from Slovakia and Switzerland will meet at the Bridgerland Ice Arena in Logan.

The $3.4 million first phase of the arena is scheduled to open Jan. 1, and the hockey game will serve as a fund-raiser for the facility. Up to 1,200 tickets will be sold at a price to be determined — likely between $10 and $50, according to the rink's executive director, Janet Borg.

Slovakia and Switzerland will play two nights earlier, Feb. 3, in Boise. That game, too, will be open to the public.

The Bridgerland Ice Arena also will stage practice performances by the French and Russian figure skating teams, on Feb. 4 and Feb. 9, respectively. Those two squads and Switzerland's men's hockey team will use the Logan facility for pre-Olympic practices as well.

"It's a perfect way to launch everything," Borg said of Cache County's first ice arena.

One of the closed contests, on Feb. 7 at the E Center, will be the final tune-up for the U.S. women's hockey team, which won the gold medal in Nagano in 1998. The Americans will play Russia, the third-place team at last April's Women's World Championship.

But the U.S. women will play a public exhibition game here before the Games — on Oct. 20 against Canada at 1 p.m. in the E Center. Tickets, now on sale, are $10 for adults and $7 for students, children and seniors.

The United States and Canada are the dominant powers in the women's game. They have met for the title of every major international competition since the first Women's World Championship in 1990.

"This is essentially the equivalent of the gold-medal game," said Utah Grizzlies President Tim Mouser.

The game against Canada will be the eighth of 38 games the American women will play on the pre-Olympic Skate to Salt Lake Tour. So far this year, Team USA is 4-0 with a pair of victories over both Russia and China.

The closed practice games are as follows:

Feb. 2, Austria vs. France, men, 6 p.m., Acord Ice Center; Feb. 4, Latvia vs. France, men, noon, Acord Ice Center; Belarus vs. Austria, men, 3:30 p.m., Acord Ice Center; Germany vs. Ukraine, men, 7 p.m., Acord Ice Center. Feb. 6, Sweden vs. China, women, 11:30 a.m., Peaks Ice Arena; France vs. Germany, men, 11:45 a.m., E Center; Germany vs. Kazakhstan, women, 1:30 p.m., Salt Lake County Ice Center; Latvia vs. Belarus, men, 2:15 p.m., Peaks Ice Arena; Ukraine vs. Austria, men, 3 p.m., E Center; Feb. 7, Germany vs. Sweden, 3:30 p.m., Peaks Ice Arena; U.S. vs., Russia, women, 5:15 p.m., E Center.

E-MAIL: zman@desnews.com