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U.S., Canada Win to Set Up Golden Match

By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Web Posted: Thursday, February 12, 1998; 2:03 p.m. EST

NAGANO, Feb. 12 — The United States and Canada both clinched spots in the gold medal game of the women's ice hockey tournament today, creating one of the most widely anticipated match-ups at the Olympics.

The two countries are clearly the best teams in a six-team tournament that has rarely featured competitive games. Finland (2-2) was considered the only other team talented and experienced enough to defeat either of the superpowers, but Canada (4-0) beat Finland, 4-2, today, knocking the Finns into the bronze-medal game against China. The United States (4-0) defeated Japan, 10-0, today and beat Finland, 4-2, on Wednesday.

"This is definitely exciting because even though all these games are real important, we really like playing Canada," U.S. forward Laurie Baker said. "We get really psyched to play them, but so far we've had to force ourselves to take it a game at a time."

The United States and Canada will actually meet twice — once Saturday in the last day of the tournament's round-robin play and again in Tuesday's gold medal game. The teams have yet to play each other in Japan but played a 13-game exhibition series leading up to the Olympics in which Canada gained the edge, 7-6. It has also won the last four World Championships.

"By now, people ask if we are sick of playing them, but I love it, I strive for it, I look forward to each shift on the ice," U.S. forward Karyn Bye said. "They allow us to take our game to the next level."

While players say "hate" is too strong a word to describe how the teams feel about each other, there is no suggestion that this is a friendly rivalry. Players rarely say more than hello to each other when passing in the athlete's village, despite knowing each other well. On the ice, games have often gotten quite physical, although referees here have been calling penalties closely.

"I'd call it heated," forward A.J. Mleczko said of the rivalry. "If I see one of them in the dining hall, I'm not going to go up and spit in her meal or anything, but I'm not going to sit down next to her either."

Mleczko and Shelly Looney each scored two goals this afternoon, adding to a hat trick by Katie King. Bye, Baker and Sandra Whyte added single goals. The United States, which outshot the Japanese, 56-4, felt it needed to run up the score just in case Finland defeated Canada later in the day. If that had happened, Canada could have defeated the United States on Saturday and created a three-way tie for first place in the standings.

In that case, the gold-medal participants would be whichever teams had the greatest goal differentials.

"We knew it would get down to a three-way tie, so we wanted to score around 10 goals," King said. "But it's not a very fun game for us to do that, either."

Canada's game was more competitive, with Therese Brisson's two goals eventually powering her team to the win. Canada also got goals from Geraldine Healy and Danielle Goyette, the tournament's leading scorer with seven goals and one assist in eight games.

After playing the United States and Canada on successive days, Finnish Coach Rauno Korpi picked Canada to win the gold medal.

"Canada plays a little more solid tactical hockey," he said. "They can handle the pressurized situations a little better than the U.S. team."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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