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Finland Beats China, Wins Women's Bronze

By David Ginsburg
Associated Press
Tuesday, February 17, 1998; 2:56 a.m. EST

NAGANO, Japan — Perhaps Finland will one day challenge for world supremacy in women's hockey. For now, the Finns will have to settle for third place behind Canada and the United States.

Finland won the bronze medal Tuesday, using a three-goal second period to defeat China, 4-1. The Finns entered the first Olympic women's hockey tournament with hopes of playing for the gold, but instead ended up in their customary spot behind the two hockey powers.

Finland has finished third in all four Women's World Championships since 1990, and things were no different in Nagano. The Finns lost only twice — to Canada and the United States, teams they have never beaten in international tournaments.

So, after being forced to once again play for third place, the Finns made the best of the situation against a team they defeated 6-1 just three days earlier in the final game of the preliminary round.

Trailing 1-0 after one period, Finland seemed to get a boost from injured star Tiia Reima, who sat out Saturday's game against China with a separated shoulder and watched the first 20 minutes of the bronze-medal game from the bench. Shortly after Reima skated onto the ice in the second period, Finland got goals by Sari Fisk, Johanna Ikonen and Sanna Lankosaari and took command.

Fisk scored in the slot at 3:07 after taking a nice pass from Riikka Nieminen, who took the puck off the backboards. Ikonen put the Finns ahead for good at 7:08 with a slap shot from the left circle, and Lankosaari made it 3-1 three minutes later by converting a centering pass from Katja Rippi, who delivered the puck on the fly from the left side.

That pretty much doomed the Chinese to fourth place, an unfamiliar position. China finished fourth behind Canada, the United States and Finland in the world championships in 1994 and 1997.

Nieminen scored into an empty net with eight seconds left. China managed only nine shots on goal, two in the third period.

Reima re-injured her shoulder after being dropped to the ice by a check from Yang Xiuquing with 9:22 remaining. Reima immediately went to the dressing room and watched the final minutes in street clothes.

Yang was called for interference, one of only four penalties called in the game — all against China.

Yang put China ahead at 9:07 of the first period with a fine bit of skating and stickwork. Yang skated down the left side, whisked past defenseman Marja-Helena Palvila inside the blue line and got within 5 feet of the net before sliding a backhander past goalie Tuula Puputti.

NHL star Wayne Gretzky watched the final minutes of the period in an open space between the benches and nodded to the players as they left the ice.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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