Survival By Shootout -- Americans, Overcome Bomb Scare, Canada

TACOMA - Bomb scare. Sudden death. Shootout.

And this was the Goodwill Games?

If it does not sound like it, neither was it just another day in the shadowed life of the U.S. hockey team, which passed through each of those trials en route to a 5-4 semifinal victory over Canada.

The victory put a smile on Ted Turner's face because it put the U.S. team in the finals today against the Soviet Union, a programmer's dream.

The day ended quickly, on shootout goals by Tim Sweeney and Tony Amonte after completing regulation and an overtime without breaking the tie at 4-4. It began slowly with the scare that closed the Tacoma Dome for an hour.The start of the U.S.-Canada game was delayed as dogs were called in to sniff a suspicious package, which turned out to be a homemade hockey puck.

``In a sense, the bomb thing broke the tension for us,'' Amonte said. ``We thought it was kind of funny. A bomb at the Goodwill Games.''

In a sense, the end of the game fit the day's play. The shootout format, with five skaters going against the opposing goalie, comes from soccer. The puck did more rolling and bouncing than sliding on bad ice in the home of the MISL's Tacoma Stars.

``The ice was as bad as I've ever seen it,'' Canada Coach Dave King said. ``Figure skating requires softer ice than hockey and they must have given priority to figure skaters here.

``But there is no real fault. It's tough to put ice in a big building in summer,'' he said. ``The surface was the same for both teams. So it is no excuse.''

The ice condition, should it be the same today, could work in the U.S. team's favor. ``It is difficult to play a finesse game, a passing game on that ice,'' U.S. Coach Jeff Sauer said. ``While both the Russians and the Swedes can play a hitting game, our style is more grind-it-out.''

Whether conditions helped them yesterday, Sweeney and Amonte went in on Canadian goaltender Warren Sharples to being the tie-breaking shootout.

``No special reason or lineup,'' Sauer said. ``We play `showdown' at the end of every practice like every other team, and these are our best shooters.''

Sweeney cut left and fired between Sharples' pads. Amonte faked right and beat Sharples back to the far side.

U.S. goalie Guy Hebert, who is in the St. Louis Blue organization, made the 2-0 shootout lead stand by stopping Gary Shuchuk and Joe Juneau. Both came in, cut right and found Hebert in their face.

Both clubs missed their next two shots, and the U.S. closed it out like match-play golf, two up with one to play.

The Americans' secret is Hebert's minor-league experience. During the regular season, Hebert tends goal for the Blues' top farm team, the Peoria Rivermen of the International Hockey League. The IHL uses a shootout format to break ties.

``I don't know if that was an advantage,'' Hebert said. ``I think this was just the second time I won in about 14 of them. In this case I don't think it decides which team is better, it's just one way to end a game which could go all day.''

While both sides had genuine bids to win, the Americans had a sizeable advantage in play, including a one-sided second period in which they out-shot Canada 13-2.

Yet the Canadians led 2-1 after one period, overcoming the Americans' opening goal on scores by Pat Murray and Jean-Yves Roy. It even could have gone to 3-1 had Juneau been able to corral a bouncing puck in front of an empty net with 20 seconds left in the period.

Shawn McEachern drew the game even at 5:17 of the second after Amonte's strong checking kept the puck in the offensive end. Then, after Murray put Canada ahead converting a brilliant doorstep pass from Brad Schlagel, Dan Keczmer tied it 3-3 on a pass from Mike McNeil at 15:23.

The U.S. team took the lead in the third on Tom Pederson's superb rush and score at 7:10. But after Canada's Sharples made bang-bang stops on Jim Nesich and Dave Emma, Canadian Kent Manderville rammed a rebound in to even the score for a fourth time.

Thirty seconds later, Sharples made the save of the game, getting a glove on an Amonte shot that was heading for the upper right corner.

And it was on to overtime, another period dominated by the U.S. with no result. Except to make necessary the shootout, which found few fans on the choppy ice.

``We were disappointed in losing,'' Murray said. ``But we were a lot more disappointed losing by shootout.''

``You can't tell from a shootout, who should win,'' Amonte said. ``It doesn't decide who's better or worse. It's just one way to end a game that could go all day.''

And the view from the bench was the same. ``From a coaching perspective, it is not the way to end a game,'' Sauer said. ``It may be exciting for the media and great for TV, but we could have played another overtime in the time it took to get the shootout going.''

Canada's King agreed.

``In a tournament, with other games scheduled, it makes sense,'' he said. ``But that is the only smart reason for it.''