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U.S., Canada roar into puck medal round

MINNEAPOLIS -- Team USA and Canada -- to the surprise of no one -- roared into the medal round of the Women's World Hockey Tournament with overwhelming victories to complete dominating performances in the round-robin play.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Team USA and Canada -- to the surprise of no one -- roared into the medal round of the Women's World Hockey Tournament with overwhelming victories to complete dominating performances in the round-robin play.
Team USA whipped a strong but overmatched Finland team 9-0 in Thursday night's final game of the round-robin in Pool B, taking center-stage at Mariucci Arena shortly after Canada had crushed Sweden 13-0.
In earlier play at St. Cloud, the United States had beaten both Germany and China by 13-0 counts, while in Rochester, Canada wiped out Kazakhstan 11-0 and overcame Russia -- the surprise of the tournament so far -- in a 5-1 game.
The two international women's powers have been clearly established over the years, with Canada winning all six previous world tournaments, while the United States won the 1998 Winter Olympic gold at Nagano, Japan. The scores this year indicate the eighth consecutive showdown for gold between Canada and the United States, although both must get past Saturday games in the medal round to reach Sunday's 6 p.m. final.
Canada, the top team in Pool A, will face Finland, the second team in Pool B, at 3 p.m. Saturday at Mariucci, followed by the U.S. game against Pool B runner-up Russia at 7:35 p.m. Losers of those games will meet at 2 p.m. Sunday for the bronze medal, with the two winners colliding at 6 p.m. Russia beat Kazakhstan 8-2 in Pool A, while China and Germany battled to a scoreless tie in Pool B at other sites Thursday night.
The clear-cut favorites are the United States and Canada in Saturday's games, which would throw them together for the eighth straight year to decide world women's hockey superiority. If that happens, UMD star Erika Holst offered her view from Sweden's team, right after losing the 13-0 game to Canada, as Correne Bredin scored three goals and Harvard teammates Jennifer Botterill and Tammy Shewchuk, and Nancy Drolet, scored two goals each.
"Usually, when you play both teams, it seems like the U.S. is better than Canada," said Holst. "But it doesn't seem to matter, because Canada always wins the gold medal anyway. And this time, Canada ran us over so badly we couldn't do anything."
Sweden, in fact, was the victim of the tournament's biggest upset, a 3-0 loss to upstart Russia, which is clearly building up its women's program, aiming at next year's Olympics. That outcome drops Sweden from the medal round and put Russia into Saturday's crossover game against the United States.
Finnish coach Jouko Lukkarila, however, cautioned about such projections as a U.S.-Canada gold-medal final, or the companion Finland-Russia game.
"Nobody knows what time we'll be playing on Saturday," said Lukkarila. "It's very important to have teams to play with, not always against, and the mental game is very important. If we can control the mental part with these girls, we can win, also."
Team USA, which is spending $2 million to put its players in a compound at Lake Placid for the whole season, didn't have as easy a time as the 9-0 score would indicate against Team Finland, which is spending about $300,000.
"Our season started in June," Lukkarila said. "Since then, we have had four days together in June, five in September, 10 days for the Four Nations Cup, and a five-day camp in February for this. That's 24 days we've been together. The U.S. has so much support, in training, weight-lifting and all preparation. We have to do it all ourselves, so we need to have a greater commitment from our players. That makes it very difficult for us to play the U.S., because they are pros, and we are not."
UMD's Jenny Schmidgall, who had a goal and an assist Monday, and a goal and two assists Tuesday, bolstered her two-assist game Thursday with the only goal of the third period to conclude the scoring.
"Obviously, I'm pleased with our play tonight," said U.S. coach Ben Smith. "The Finnish team is always one of our biggest rivals, and we've had traditional battles with them. Tonight, we got a couple of quick strikes, but they showed what they're about by playing so well in the third period."

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