Americans winning, but still searching for respect

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 6:42 PM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Entering the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship, there were all kinds of doubts about the U.S.'s ability to repeat as champs. Two games in, it's safe to say the doubters remain.

Because while it may be 2-0 and leading its pool, Team U.S.A. has shown a few cracks, particularly in a skin-of-their-teeth, 6-4 victory over Switzerland Monday night.

"You're not always going to win every game pretty," U.S. head coach Scott Sandelin was saying yesterday. "The good thing, all the mistakes we're making are correctable mistakes."

The other good thing: the U.S. still hasn't trailed in a game, including an opening-day, 5-4 win over the Russians.

The fact they've given up a whopping eight goals has Sandelin a little concerned, though.

You see, goaltender Al Montoya, one of eight returnees and the MVP of last year's tourney, was supposed to be the backbone of what is a younger American team this time around.

"(The goaltending) probably hasn't been great," Sandelin admitted. "But ... it's a six-man deal. Defence is a team thing. We left him hanging. I'm not worried about that. He's proven at this level. We've just got to play better in front of him. We can't rely on him to be the guy every night."

Sandelin would love for his team to lift a page from the Team Canada book on defensive play. Going into last night's game against Germany, Canada had allowed four goals in two games.

"Obviously Canada has played very well," the coach said. "They're scoring a lot of goals ... but I've been more impressed with how well they've played defensively. That's an area we've got to get better at."

If not, you can be sure the States will make people at The Hockey News look pretty smart, after all. The publication picked the defending champs to finish sixth this year, a ranking that rankled more than a few members of the Red, White and Blue.

"You look at it, you're like, 'Why? Where do you get that from? We won the championship last year,' " said forward Robbie Schremp, a product of Fulton, N.Y. "But you know, we'll go out and prove them wrong. You can't bitch in the paper. You just go out and show them."

Third-year returnee Patrick O'Sullivan, whose fluke goal was the winner in last year's gold-medal game, says U.S. hockey never gets the respect it deserves.

"No one seems to think we can do it again," O'Sullivan said. "It doesn't matter. This game is not decided on paper."

The U.S. takes on Belarus tonight, the Czechs tomorrow.


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