WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- The United States started the Olympic hockey tournament the way it ended "The Miracle on Ice," by beating Finland.
John LeClair scored three goals in a slow-starting but fast-finishing 6-0 victory Friday night.
With Herb Brooks behind the bench, just as in the gold medal-clinching 4-2 victory over Finland in Lake Placid, and Mike Eruzione watching from the stands, the United States had all the look of '80 in its first Olympic game on home ice in 22 years.
Just as in the 1980 game, the Americans got off to a sluggish start, held scoreless in the first period by Ottawa backup goalie Jani Hurme as Finland - a surprise bronze medalist in 1998 - looked more comfortable on the bigger international ice.
It was that unfamiliarity with the wide ice that doomed favored Canada earlier in the day in a 5-2 loss to Sweden. But Finland lacks the Swedes' playmakers and puck-moving defensemen, and the Americans' size, strength and scoring began to show in a decisive three-goal second period.
The United States went nearly half the game before scoring, but once Scott Young scored his fifth career Olympic goal at 9:45 of the second by lifting a shot under the crossbar, Hurme never got the game back under control.
LeClair made it 2-0 at 16:36 by deflecting a rebound of Brett Hull's shot off Hurme's skate, and Keith Tkachuk scored just over a minute later to give goalie Mike Dunham a comfortable lead. Dunham, 0-1-2 in two Olympics during his amateur days, faced only four shots in the first period before finishing with 23 saves.
LeClair scored again during a two-man advantage early in the third period, and hooked up again with Hull later in the period to finish off his three-goal game. He didn't have a goal in four games during the Americans' out-of-the-medal finish in Nagano best remembered for the furniture-smashing incident in the Olympic Village.
Friday's victory served only to improve the Americans' chances of getting a good draw in the quarterfinals, but it was a promising start for the home team and built some momentum going into Saturday night's matchup against Russia.
It was the United States' 4-3 victory over the fabled Soviet Union hockey machine that wrote one of the greatest chapters in American sports history in 1980, with Brooks' college kids beating a team so good it defeated NHL All-Star teams.
This U.S. team will get a much better idea against Russia of how much of an advantage that playing at home will be, as the E Center crowd will likely be much louder and impassioned than the relatively quiet fans Friday.
The United States now is 6-2-2 against Finland in Olympic play and still has lost only one Olympic game played on home ice.
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