The US Olympic hockey team, fresh from a dramatic, last-minute 2-2 tie against Sweden in the opening round, is on the spot again tonight against powerful Czechoslovakia.
These three teams are generally considered the top medal prospects in their six-team preliminary round section, but only two of them can advance to next week's semifinals and finals against the first and second place finishers from the other section.
The young US team appeared headed for a 2-1 loss and a severe dimming of its medal hopes in its very first game, but in the final minute the Americans pulled their goaltender for a sixth skater, and with just 27 seconds left defenseman Bill Baker blasted in a 40-foot slap shot to tie the score.
It was an emotionally draining game for both teams, but there's no respite for the Americans, whose schedule throws them right back against the Czechs. The latter club routed Norway 11-0 in its first round game, while Romania upset West Germany 6-4 in the other Blue Group opener.
The Soviet Union, top-seeded in the Red Group and an overwhelming favorite to eventually win its fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal dating back to 1964, opened up with a 16-0 rout of Japan. Scores of other first round games in this section were Canada 10, Holland 1; Poland 5, Finland 4.