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    Thursday, February 19, 1998

    Red, white and boo hoo

    By AL STRACHAN -- At The Olympics

      Quips were flying fast and thick as the U.S. media horde waited for the post-game news conference.
     "The Americans ran into a hot bartender," was one.
      "They're taking the bullet train to Tokyo tomorrow but they should skip the train and just take the bullet," was another.
     "The only Olympic rings they saw were made by their beer glasses on a bar," was another.
     And there were others that wouldn't make it into a family newspaper, even one with The Toronto Sun's liberal approach.
     One thing was clear. Team USA was about to get a roasting in the U.S. press, and perhaps even on network television. Some of the questions from normally mundane television reporters were accusatory and verging on downright hostile.
     Certainly the Americans didn't make any great secret of their involvement in Nagano's nightlife. They were spotted frequently in bars, often in the wee hours of the morning -- and for that, they'll probably be in for a lot of criticism.
     But there is not any real reason to think that the late hours were a major factor. After all, the actions of most of those players did not represent a significant change in lifestyle.
     Sure they partied. So what? Some of the great Canada Cup teams of the 1980s weren't in any danger of being asked to join a monastery.
     What lost it for the Americans was not their lifestyle but their mindset. Arrogance rarely seems to be very far from the surface in the U.S. psyche. The Americans love arrogance, whether it comes from their movie stars, their rock bands, their sporting heroes or even their military leaders.
     Give them a national title and all of a sudden they're anointing themselves world champions. Check into an American's beliefs and you'll find that most of them came directly from Hollywood, which routinely alters history to reassure its audience that there has been only one acceptable course of action and that just happens to be the American way.
     Many of their hockey players are typical Americans -- but certainly not all of them. Pat LaFontaine is a thoughtful gentleman. Mike Richter is classy and responsible, as he showed when he took full blame for the U.S. elimination. And there are others who don't fit the American stereotype.
     But in general, there is that attitude of, "I'm an American and I'm right no matter what the rest of the world does." It's an attitude that appears to be highly contagious and can spread quickly to Canadians who decide to become converts -- such as coach Ron Wilson and Brett Hull.
     And more than anything else, it's that attitude that really hurt the Americans, not their partying. They came to Nagano determined that they weren't about to change to suit the Europeans, just because they were playing on a European ice surface in a tournament dominated by European teams.
     Wilson, of course, refused to admit it. Because the Americans created scoring chances, he kept saying after their 4-1 loss to the Czechs, their approach had no flaws. It was simply a matter of not being able to put the puck in the net often enough.
     But isn't there a possibility that they could have created even more chances if they had done what Team Canada did and produced a thorough game plan that maximizes the team's chances under these unusual circumstances?
     Isn't it also possible that the Americans were lacking in offence because the opponents knew exactly what to expect and that if Team USA had modified its style, perhaps the altered attack might have confused the opposition?
     Of course not. We're Americans and what we do is always right. We dump and chase and we bang and we cycle. If the rest of the world doesn't like it, then they must be wrong.
     When they lost to the Swedes, it was because they weren't used to the situation. When they lost to the Canadians, it was because Team Canada wanted revenge for the World Cup -- but Team USA would win the rematch. And when they lost to the Czechs, it was because they couldn't score despite doing everything right.
     Something wrong with our game? Certainly not. We're Americans and we're the world champs, you know.
     Not any more.