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US Women's Hockey Team Continues Winning Ways - 2002-02-17


The U.S. women ice hockey players have now won 34 games in a row after shutting out Finland here, 5-0 in a group round-robin match.

The American women have never lost to a hockey team other than Canada in the sport's 12-year history. But 22-months ago, Finland nearly pulled off the improbable. The Finns held a three to one lead over the U.S. team with 10 minutes left in a preliminary match at the World Championships. But the Americans rallied to win, four to three.

Tuula Puputti was the Finnish goaltender in that game and she is the starter here. After this Olympic game, she said the American women are much better now and the toughest team she's ever faced. "They were really strong in every part of the game, in front of both nets, skating, going hard for three periods, and definitely their individual players are more skilled right now than they used to be," she said.

One of those skilled players is 18-year old Natalie Darwitz who scored three goals against Finland for the hat trick, and she leads the team in scoring here after three games. "I never would have expected that. You know, it's great to score goals and get goals in the Olympics and score a hat trick and lead the team, but I'm more focused on our next game and playing well," she said. "We're playing well as a team right now and today was a fun game."

Both the USA and Finland had already clinched berths in the semifinal round here after winning their first two games, but the five to nothing victory by the Americans, the reigning Olympic champions, makes them the top seed from their group heading into the medals round, which begins Tuesday.

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