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U.S. Women Stay Undefeated With 4-2 Win

By Margaret Lillard
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, February 11, 1998; 2:36 p.m. EST


 Shelley Looney (left) of the U.S. celebrates after scoring a goal in a 7-1 defeat of Sweden. (AP Photo)
NAGANO, Japan (AP) — To the U.S. women's hockey team, she is simply No. 20 — 5 feet, 9 inches and 150 pounds of muscle unloading a slapshot that can break bones and hearts.

Kirsi Haenninen broke a hole in the U.S. defense, just as the team feared she would. But it was only one, and the Americans unleashed their own attack while goalie Sarah Tueting overcame an early gaffe as the United States beat Finland, one of its fiercest rivals, 4-2 on Wednesday.

The game was critical not only for the Americans to improve their Olympic standings, but because Finland more than once has acted as a spoiler.

Finland tied the United States 3-3 in first-round games at the Women's World Championship last spring and at the Three Nations' Cup this fall. The Finns never have lost by more than two goals to the United States in the world championship since it was first played in 1990.

Both teams want badly to unseat reigning world champion Canada. The United States and Finland have always finished second and third, respectively, to the Canadians in the world championship.

U.S. coach Ben Smith had said since arriving in Nagano that the Finns could be a wild card, and that Haenninen would have to be restrained.

``We're scared to death of No. 20 on their power play and they know we're scared,'' he said after Wednesday's game. ``We tried as hard as we could to take her out of the play but she was able to be a force.''

Haenninen let loose her slapshot from the center of the blue line to tie Wednesday's game 1-1 on a power play near the end of the first period.

``The U.S. was playing really powerfully at the time, and when we tied it, we kind of got into the game,'' she said through an interpreter.

``She let the rocket go,'' U.S. forward Karyn Bye said. ``Our goal tonight was to prevent her from shooting and the one time we did let her shoot, she put it in the net.''

The teams exchanged goals for another tie in the second. Then defenseman Tara Mounsey — nicknamed, oddly, ``Fluffy'' — put the United States up for good on another power play.

``Mounsey is one of the best defensemen here,'' Finnish coach Rauno Korpi said. ``No mistakes, strong with one-on-ones — can shoot, too.''

What appeared to be another tying goal near the end of the period was ruled invalid when officials said it had hit the crossbar. As play continued before the video review, Gretchen Ulion added the final score for the United States.

Tueting had to shake off an early mistake. She tried to send the puck forward from the boards during a power play, but it bounced in front of her open net and was quickly fired in by Finland's Riikka Nieminen.

``It's hard after something that,'' Tueting said. ``As a goaltender there's not much you can do (to make it up). You can't take the puck out of the net, you can't go down and score, you can't on your next shift go out and fly around and work off some steam.

``After that I was like, all right, no one else can score.''

The victory gave the United States six points, in an Olympic standings tie with Canada, which defeated Sweden 5-3. Finland has four, China — which beat Japan 6-1 — has two, and Sweden and Japan each has zero.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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