Hull of a player for Americans to have

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- If you're playing a big hockey game, even if it's late at night, you want Brett Hull on your side.

The 37-year-old Team USA/Red Wings sniper, who clinched a Stanley Cup for the Stars with a triple-OT goal in the wee hours of a June 1999 morning in Buffalo, added another big goal to his Hall of Fame resume on Saturday night/early Sunday morning in the Eastern time zone. With Team USA down 2-1, Hull ripped a wrister past Team Russia/Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin on a second-chance opportunity from the left slot with just 4:30 left in the third period to lift the Americans into a 2-2 tie with the Russians.

Hull's goal, which set off an eruption inside the jammed E Center, did more than just tie the game, though. It all but ensured Team USA a berth in Friday's semifinals.


Well, with the tie -- and because of a six-goal advantage over Team Russia in goal differential (the second tiebreaker) -- Team USA can clinch Pool D with an expected victory over lowly Belarus on Monday afternoon. As Pool D winner, the Americans would then almost certainly face underdog Germany (instead of the Swedes, Czechs or Canadians) in one of the quarterfinal games Wednesday.

Afterward, Hull figured he got a good break on the scoring play because he mishandled his first opportunity off a pass from defenseman Phil Housley (Blackhawks).

"I kind of whiffed on the first one," Hull said. "But, the puck just sat up for me to get a second chance. I guess it's just more of that Herb Brooks magic."

Hearing that, Brooks just laughed.

"I haven't scored 600-something goals in the NHL," Brooks said. "Brett just made a great play to battle through the traffic to get to the right spot. He kinda missed the first try, but he got it back and ripped it into the net."

The sight of Hull scoring a big goal was nothing new to the Stars' Mike Modano, who centered Hull for three seasons in Dallas.

"He always gets into good scoring position and he digs in," said Modano, who was reunited on a line with Hull and assisted on the tying goal. "Some guys will drift through those areas, but he stops and sets up.

"And, he's so strong, it's really hard to knock him down. He's kind of like one of those weebles that you can't knock over.

"Hey, he's got 671 career goals," Modano added with a smile. "So, it's no coincidence ... just ask him."

Although he'll always be remembered as one of the great goal-scorers (and talkers) in the game, Hull doesn't get nearly enough props for his improved two-way play, especially in big games.

"All the offense starts with good defense," Hull says. "I didn't learn that until a couple years ago."

Brooks, who has seen a little hockey in his nearly 50 years in the game, is extremely impressed with Hull's total game.

"Brett is a unique guy," Brooks said. "He's a hard worker and a very smart player and he plays a subtle defensive game. I think (Detroit coach) Scotty Bowman will tell you that, too."

Despite the significance of the Saturday night/Sunday morning goal, Hull says it doesn't come close to his Cup-winner. "Nothing will ever compare to that one," he says. "But, it was a little similar. And it was a really exciting game. Tonight was a great game for all of us to be a part of."

Yes Brett, you're right, the game was a great one. And, a big game. The perfect type of game for a money player.

Game notes
USA left wing Keith Tkachuk left the game late in the third period after a stunning, but clean, open ice hit by Russian D Vladimir Malakhov. He appeared to suffer a leg injury and did not return. Brooks said Tkachuk's status for Monday's game vs. Belarus was uncertain ... With the tie, the U.S. ran its Olympic home ice unbeaten streak to 21 games (18-0-3). Team USA's last Olympic loss on American soil (2-1 to Canada) dates back to the 1932 Games at Lake Placid ... The best hit of the night came midway through the second period when USA/Flyers LW John LeClair slammed into Russia/Penguins D Darius Kasparaitis. Neither player was hurt ... With just nine shots on goal through two periods, Brooks shuffled his lines in the third period. Afterwards, he said he would likely start Monday's game with the new lines. The new lines were (left to right): LeClair-Doug Weight-Bill Guerin, Tony Amonte-Mike Modano-Hull, Tkachuk-Jeremy Roenick-Scott Young and Mike York-Brian Rolston-Adam Deadmarsh. Chris Drury received limited ice time in the third period ... Brooks remained mum about his goaltending plans. He said he hadn't decided which of his three stoppers would start Monday. Tom Barrasso has dressed as the backup for each of the first two games ... Team Russia/Thrashers' 18-year-old phenom Ilya Kovalchuk finished with five shots to lead his team for the second straight game. Kovalchuk has a goal, two assists and 14 shots in two games. Not bad for a kid, eh?

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.