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North American rivalry to grow, Gretzky says

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2002


WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Canada general manager Wayne Gretzky came right out and said it Saturday. He and his team were rooting for the United States to reach today's men's hockey final.

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Canada general manager Wayne Gretzky came right out and said it Saturday. He and his team were rooting for the United States to reach today's men's hockey final.

He also said Canada's main rival for world hockey supremacy -- remember, Canada hasn't won Olympic gold in 50 years -- has shifted from Russia to the boys south of the border.

"There is a sense of having a North American championship here," Gretzky said. "The U.S. playing Canada is probably one of the greatest things to happen to the NHL in a long time."

That probably won't go over too well with a Russian team already feeling picked on and coach Slava Fetisov, who said Friday the Olympic tournament was fixed, through the use of NHL referees, to ensure a United States-Canada final.

Canada coach Pat Quinn made no apologies for the North American flavor to the gold-medal game.

"This is big for us, big for a lot of reasons," he said. "We haven't won in this in a long time, and Canada is looked at disdainfully by the European teams, generally, in how we teach our kids and what's wrong with our game. It's pretty nice to see two North American teams that don't know much about this game in the finals."

With the teams stocked with NHL players, Quinn joked it may be time to get off the big international ice.

"I talked to Herb (Brooks)," he said of U.S. coach, "and said we should get a backyard rink and let the two teams go at it."

Gretzky said there will be more championship matchups between the teams.

"I really believe now, growing up in the United States at one time, the best athletes grew up playing baseball, basketball and football. Now I think a lot of the best athletes grow up wanting to play hockey.

"There is no question that over time, the U.S. team is going to get better and better. They have a tremendous amount of people to draw from, and they have great athletes."

The one constant for both sides:

"The reality," Gretzky said, "is nobody remembers who finishes second."

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