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UMD's women skaters turn from Team USA to Providence at DECC

This is a big week for the UMD women's hockey team. First, the Bulldogs have been rated No. 1 in the nation, going into this weekend's season-opening series against Providence, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the DECC. They also will take time f...

This is a big week for the UMD women's hockey team. First, the Bulldogs have been rated No. 1 in the nation, going into this weekend's season-opening series against Providence, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the DECC. They also will take time from those games to raise their banner for winning the first NCAA women's hockey tournament ever played, last spring.
While most of the Bulldogs will be eager to play their first competitive hockey this weekend, coach Shannon Miller and four of her players got indoctrinated to high-tempo hockey last weekend, when they represented the WCHA all-star selects for two games against Team USA, the high-powered outfit building itself up for February, when the Winter Olympics will be held at Salt Lake City.
Team USA, which has been working out and living together and is beyond midseason form, dismantled the WCHA team, whose members hadn't played yet this season. But goaltender Tuula Puputti, and forwards Maria Rooth, Erika Holst and Hanne Sikio were among the WCHA team's top players. Puputti was brilliant in goal, facing 45 shots in Friday's 3-0 loss at Madison, and facing 51 of the 65 shots Team USA fired in Saturday's 6-1 romp at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Sikio got the only goal for the WCHA.
Those four also are valid judges of Team USA's progress, since Puputti and Sikio will return to play for the Finnish team at the Olympics, and Rooth and Holst will play for Sweden.
Nobody, however, is a better judge of the U.S. team than Miller, who coached Team Canada to the Silver Medal when the U.S. beat Canada for the gold at Nagano, Japan, in 1998. Canada played Team USA 12 times in all that season.
"Our plan against Team USA was to keep it simple, break it out, dump it in, and forecheck," said Miller. "We played so well [in the first game] that I was in shock. We had so much energy in our legs, so much heart. But then [in the second game] players were coming to the bench after their first shift and saying, 'Oh, my legs.' But we played proud, what more can you ask?"
As for the U.S. team, Miller said: "Yes, they are better than they were four years ago. They have better athletes, better strength, speed and puck movement. Both the U.S. and Canada have pulled away from the rest, unfortunately. But one thing the American team really needs to do is to learn how to beat a great goalie.
"They got 50 shots [Friday] and scored three goals on Tuula, and they got a few more [Saturday]. Yes, Tuula played very well, but the Americans have to expect that they're going to face good goaltending every night. That takes creativity."
Miller said that Jenny Potter -- the former Jenny Schmidgall, who has told Miller she will return to UMD next fall -- and Krissy Wendell clearly stood out in the first game, while Wendell and Natalie Darwitz were the clear standouts Saturday. Darwitz pounced on her own rebound to score the first goal of the second game, with 1:32 to go in the first period, and Wendell scored a third-period goal amid a three-goal burst that started against backup goalie, Mankato's Shari Vogt.
Team USA statisticians gave the U.S. a 20-4 edge in shots in the first period, 24-0 in the second, and 21-1 in the third, although Rooth had a breakaway chance stopped by Sara DeCosta in the second period, and Sikio's goal was on a wide-angle rebound of another shot with 3:29 to go in the third.
"I should have put two in," said Rooth. "Our line had more chances tonight [Saturday], but we had more energy and they were a little slower last night [Friday]."
"They're very good," said Puputti. "They have a lot of really skillful players, like Shmiggy, Krissy Wendell, and Natalie Darwitz. They've been bringing in new players, which is a really good thing for the U.S. players, because they aren't just staying with the older players."
When asked if she enjoyed facing so many shots, Puputti said it would help her get ready for her goaltending duties with Finland. "Hopefully I'll get more of those games, with lots of speed and lots of shots," she said.
That could come as early as this weekend, when Providence will come to the DECC.

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