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U.S. goalie saves the day

From towns like Pinebridge and Flint to Saginaw and Fort Wayne, Ray LeBlanc has stood in goal since 1984, bouncing around in the minors and keeping alive the dream of someday playing in the NHL.

But when the U.S. Olympic hockey team called in mid-November, LeBlanc settled for being a national hero instead.

LeBlanc made 46 sometimes miraculous saves _ including 20 in the first period alone _ and posted the first shutout of the 1992 Olympic tournament as the United States beat Germany 2-0 Tuesday night in a first-round match at the Olympic Arena.

The shutout was the first by an American team in the Olympics since an 8-0 win over Germany in 1964.

"I'm really happy to be here," said LeBlanc, who has changed teams eight times in the last five years. "It's everybody's dream to represent your country. You always want to do like Jim Craig in 1980 and be a hero. Well, it's a great thrill to do well and be a hero."

Marty McInnis and Ted Donato scored goals as the United States equaled its best start since 1960 and kept pace with world powers Finland and Sweden atop the Group A standings. Finland ripped Italy 9-1 earlier in the day, and Sweden pounded Italy 7-3.

The real test for the young American squad will come Thursday against Finland, a team that includes five NHL veterans.

Either way, U.S. coach Dave Peterson said his team has at least one thing going for it: a red-hot goalie.

"Any time a goalkeeper performs the way Ray has performed in our two games, it gives the other players confidence," he said.

LeBlanc, 27, was also in goal for the 6-3 win over Italy and now has recorded 81:15 straight shutout minutes. But LeBlanc was never better than in the third period against Germany, when he blocked two point-blank shots at 7:04, then came back four minutes later to deflect a wrist shot by Dieter Hegen while sitting in the goal.

LeBlanc even withstood a brief six-on-four situation in the closing minutes and used his stick to bat away a drive from center ice at the final buzzer.

LeBlanc left the stick aloft as his teammates mobbed him in front of the goal.

"I guess that's what they mean when they say you're riding the tiger," LeBlanc said.