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US Loses World Hockey Championships

May 6, 1998

ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) _ Two years after winning the World Cup of hockey, the United States is in danger of being knocked out of the elite group of world hockey teams.

Sweden beat the United States 6-1 Wednesday in the World Ice Hockey Championships, handing the U.S. its second early exit from an international tournament in three months.

The U.S. Olympic team was knocked out in the quarterfinals in Nagano with a 1-3 record.

The U.S. team’s fate was sealed when Switzerland’s Marcel Jenni scored an empty-net goal against France with only 14 seconds remaining to vault Switzerland into the second round.

Switzerland’s 5-1 victory left the host team, France and the United States tied at 1-2 in Group C round-robin play. Sweden won the group with a 3-0 mark.

Switzerland and the United States finished with even goal-differentials, but the Swiss advanced by scoring more goals.

The United States moved into the consolation round with Germany, Italy and Latvia. The top two teams remain in the A-pool while the other two must go into a qualification tournament in November just to make next year’s world championships.

``It’s harsh,″ said Bryan Smolinski, who scored the lone goal against Sweden. ``We put ourselves in this position.″

It’s been quite a slide from 1996, when goaltender Mike Richter led a star-studded U.S. team to one of its greatest international triumphs in the World Cup final against Canada in Montreal.

This American team doesn’t have a single Olympian on the squad. It’s manned by NHL players whose teams are out of the playoffs, European-based players, collegians and minor leaguers.

Though strengthened by the recent arrival of NHLers Al Iafrate (San Jose Sharks), Shjon Podein (Philadelphia Flyers) and Mike Dunham (New Jersey Devils), the American squad could do nothing against a Swedish team stacked with NHL stars.

Sweden jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Mikael Johansson and Kim Johnsson.

Smolinski brought the United States back to within one at 2:07 into the second period but Sweden pulled away again 10 minutes later when Tampa Bay’s Mikael Renberg beat goaltender Garth Snow to make it 3-1.

Ulf Dahlen scored twice and Nichlas Falk added another goal to close out the scoring for Sweden.

``I think Sweden is the number one team at the tournament,″ American team captain Eric Weinrich said. ``We played as hard as we could. We killed a lot of penalties, we didn’t get much help on that.″

The Americans didn’t fill out their roster until the game against Sweden, a tactic which proved costly when the United States lost to France 3-1.

``For us to have a chance to win, which is why we are here, we need to have more of our better players participating, like Sweden does,″ U.S. general manager David Poile said. ``We aren’t just here to win against teams like France then lose in the next round. It’s not a gamble but more of a philosophy.″

The Swiss, only admitted into the A-Pool elite this year, entered the match needing to win by four goals. The United States needed them to win by three or less.

Michel Zeiter scored the only goal in the first period at 15:14. Patrik Sutter and Gian-Marco Crameri added goals in the second before Philippe Bozon answered for France.

Jenni scored his first goal with 3:13 left in the third and France pulled its goaltender with 1:09 left setting up Jenni’s clinching goal.

Canada, the Czech Republic and Russia took the top spots in the other three groups. Belarus, Latvia and Finland joined Switzerland as the second-place teams.

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