Gold Medal showdown approaches for Women's Hockey

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- The United States women were two players short.

And the women from Finland, trailing 1-0, were licking their chops for a power play in the first period during a preliminary round showdown of unbeaten Olympic hockey teams Saturday.

U.S. goalie Sara DeCosta knocked away three straight shots, then stroked the puck down the ice. Angela Ruggiero caught it and flipped it ahead as she was was upended. Natalie Darwitz, speedskating toward the goal, rammed the puck past goalie Tuula Puputti, then crashed against the backboard.

Defining moment.

Even two players down, the U.S. was powerful. Even the goalie can aid a score.

DeCosta's assist nicely framed a shutout in the 5-0 victory by the Americans, who have outscored their first three opponents 27-1. The U.S. moves on to Tuesday's semifinals.

"You score three-on-five and it takes the other team's momentum away," said forward Jenny Bye.

The Fins fired 21 shots at DeCosta. None ended up in the net. Twice, the American goalie helped negate three-on-five situations. The Americans withstood nine power plays.

Before the match with Finland, considerably stronger than previous opponents Germany and China, DeCosta had only had eight saves and hoped for more shots Saturday.

"I like shots when they're not scoring, and I got some quality shots today," DeCosta said. "My teammates helped me out. There were no rebounds. They were there for me on those power plays."

Darwitz, 18, took care of the offense. She turned a hat trick on Puputti, who plays for the University of Minnesota-Duluth and is one of the best female goalies at the Winter Olympics.

"You just dream of scoring a goal in an Olympics," she said. "Three in one game is surreal. The puck just bounced my way today. It wasn't easy because Tuula has a great glove."

The Americans, dominating from the beginning, peppered Puputti with 47 shots.

"Natalie could be a power skater she's so strong," said Cammie Granato, one of 14 veterans on the U.S. team. "She just gets to the puck and has a knack for the net."

Even though the score didn't reflect it, the Americans were happy to have a competitive game after two games that were basically walkovers.

The game against Finland was a physical one. Players were sent to the penalty box 20 times.

"We have to make quicker shifts and we had to play some defense, something we didn't have to do the first two games," Bye said.

"It was nice to have a flow to the game, which forced us to fall back on defense," Darwitz said. "They had us on our heels a couple of times."

The U.S. women, who seemed to be marching toward a gold medal showdown with Canada (which they have dominated lately), are being hailed as a machine.

"We go out and practice like a machine at times,," said Bye.

DeCosta added, "My team is my best competition. Every day in practice it's a game for me out there."

(David McCollum, sports columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark., is part of the Morris News Service team covering the Winter Olympics).

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