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Sunday, 17 February, 2002, 23:28 GMT

When East met West

By BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay in Salt Lake City

It wasn't quite another 'Miracle on Ice', but the encounter between USA and Russia at the E Center certainly lived up to every expectation.

I got there very early to bag my seat - Salt Lake scalpers, ticket touts to you and me, were demanding US$150 earlier in the day for the privilege.

And even an hour or so ahead of face-off, the noise and flag-waving was already considerable.

While the teams took pot shots at their respective net-minders in the warm-up, I did my best to obey the big screen, which ordered the crowd to 'watch out for flying pucks'.

Unsurprisingly, the stadium announcer, who rattled through messages for most of the match, took his time over that warning.

Various ice hockey legends of Games gone by appeared during the build-up, most notably Mike Eruzione, captain of those real American heroes of 1980 and the man who helped light the Olympic torch this time round.

With the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Fat Boy Slim being pumped through the speakers, a huge reception for the start was guaranteed.

But I honestly tingled in anticipation when the players emerged on the ice to U2's anthemic 'Where the streets have no name.'

The action itself was appropriately end-to-end.

The Russians were arguably more skilful and swift on their skates, but the home side more than made up for their deficiencies with a spirited display.

Net-minders Mike Richter and Nikolai Khaibibulin both excelled in a scoreless first period.

The US needed a 5-on-3 power play to really take the game to their opponents, and Keith Tkachuk eventually jammed a loose puck home early in the second period to spark the first real screams of the evening.

The superior side duly came back with a classy strike from Valeri Bure.

And when Sergei Fedorov sneaked the Russians ahead, I frantically looked round for his other half, a certain miss Kournikova.

Sadly, she was nowhere to be seen, but it was heartening to see Elena Berezhnaya, the other female face in 'Skategate', cheering madly and showing no sign of the stresses of the last seven days.

However, I must confess to urging Team USA forward in the dying moments.

Chance after chance came and went, but when Fedorov's Detroit team-mate, Brett Hull, finally found the net with four minutes left, I was powerless to stop myself jumping for joy.

That goal gave the USA every chance of winning the group, and pushing through for possible bronze, while the Russians just need to afford Khabibulin and co extra protection if they are to eventually challenge the Czechs and Canadians for gold.

All in all, a 2-2 tie just felt like the right result.

In years past, this would have been a classic Cold War confrontation - but in 2002, everyone left this thrilling match with a real, warm glow.


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