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    Friday, February 20, 1998

    Angry U.S. players trash rooms, image in Nagano

     NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- First they crashed, then they trashed.
     U.S. hockey officials were in damage-control mode today -- apparently a day too late -- after some American NHL players vented their anger over an embarrassing Olympics by trashing their Olympic village rooms.
     Three apartments in a complex shared by as many as 20 players were vandalized. Ten chairs were broken and three fire extinguishers were emptied, and six of the chairs and a fire extinguisher were thrown from a fifth-floor apartment to a courtyard below. No injuries were reported.
     Damage was estimated at $3,000 US, and both USA Hockey and the NHL quickly volunteered to make restitution.
     There were apologies all around, from USA Hockey, the NHL, the players' union -- everyone except the unhappy players, who returned home the day after Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Czech Republic eliminated them from the Olympics. The Americans didn't reach the semifinals -- despite fielding a team with six 50-goal scorers and 17 NHL stars.
     "I feel sad for them (because) that's how they will be remembered," said Anita DeFrantz, an IOC vice-president from the United States. "Athletes should be remembered as Olympians who competed with honor and had some dignity."
     American forward Doug Weight suggested the incident was overblown, telling the Miami Herald that some players had "a few beers" after the Czech game. He denied there was any vandalism during an incident that occurred at 4 a.m. Thursday in Nagano time, about 11 hours after the Czech loss.
     "We got back to the village real late, and we probably were too loud," Weight said. "Some guys were wrestling and stuff, but that's it. I know nothing about broken windows or anything like that.
     "As for the broken chairs, we're big guys and the chairs aren't real strong and some of them had been broken since we got here just from sitting on them to play cards. We weren't throwing furniture," he said.
     Although some players stayed with their families in Nagano hotels, most were in the village, making it difficult to determine immediately who was responsible.
     NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, vice-president Brian Burke and players union head Bob Goodenow viewed the rooms, and USOC officials met with Nagano organizers to assess the damage. Bettman said the league's security chief would work with USA Hockey on the investigation.
     "Obviously such conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," Bettman said.
     But it is unclear if the NHL can discipline any players involved, since they were not representing their NHL teams.
     U.S. general manager Lou Lamoriello told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger that the players, whoever they were, "should be ashamed of themselves."
     "I'm upset. I'm appalled to hear something like that," he said. "I don't condone it. I can't accept it. ... There is no reason to do anything like that. If they were disappointed, think of all the fans who were disappointed."
     David Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said there was no connection between the trashed rooms and an accident involving Canadian bobsledder Matt Hindle of Calgary, who was struck and slightly injured earlier Wednesday evening by what was described as "pieces of glass" that fell from the sixth floor of the Olympic Village tower.
     Other U.S. Olympians, most of whom earn only a fraction of what hockey players make, regretted the players' behavior.
     "It's embarrassing because most people leave the Olympic Village with no gold medal. There's no million-dollar contract for them," luger Erin Warren said. "It was very disappointing. ... I'm disgusted by it."
     Although the actual damage seemed relatively minor and no players will face criminal charges unless Nagano Olympic organizers request them, the incident is another blemish on the American team's image.
     Some players seemed to take a casual attitude about the much-hyped Olympic tournament from the start, treating it as a mid-season vacation from the rigorous NHL schedule rather than a potential breakthrough for their sport.
     Players were spotted several times partying late into the night, and U.S. coach Ron Wilson cancelled a practice the day before a 4-1 loss to Canada.
     "We'll be the laughingstock of the NHL for a couple of weeks," assistant captain Keith Tkachuk said after the Czech loss.