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Russians, Swiss win Olympic women’s hockey openers

February 9, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The Russian women’s hockey team awakened in time to preserve its chances of reaching the medal round.

In front of a boisterous crowd that was the biggest yet at the Shayba Arena, the home team scored four times in the third period to come from behind and skate away with a 4-1 victory over Germany on Sunday night. Earlier in group play, Switzerland beat Japan 1-0.

Germany’s Franziska Busch broke a scoreless tie in the second period, and Viona Harrer took a shutout into the third before the Russians scored four times in a span of 7 minutes, 11 seconds. Yulia Leskina made 14 saves for Russia on her 23rd birthday and in her Olympic debut.

“We knew it was only one goal,” said forward Yekaterina Pashkevich, a Moscow native who works as a union electrician in Worcester, Mass. “But in sports, if you give the opponent the opportunity to believe they can play against you, they will play.”

Germany led 1-0 when Iya Gavrilova tied it 5:04 into the third period. Less than four minutes after that, Olga Sosina’s shot deflected off a defender and into the net, and they Yekaterina Smolentseva scored on a 2-on-1 just 38 seconds later. Sosina scored again with 7:45 to play.

“We talked (during the second intermission) about how we’re so much better than we were playing,” Pashkevich said. “There was no reason to get worried. But the four goals were awesome.”

Harrer stopped 33 shots for Germany. Smolentzeva had a goal and two assists in front of the home crowd of 5,048, which banged drums and chanted “Ro-ssi-ya! Ro-ssi-ya!” at the puck-shaped venue on the coast of the Black Sea.

The Russians, who were third at the most recent world championships, are trying to play their way out of the second-tier Group B and into a spot in the quarterfinals. Only the top two teams in the round-robin will make the elimination stage, where they will meet the bottom two teams in Group A; the top two teams in the upper tier will get a bye to the semifinals.

Sweden won its Group B opener Sunday with a 1-0 victory over Japan. Jenni Asserholt deflected a shot into the net for a first-period goal.

Valentina Wallner stopped 19 shots for the Swedes.

Nana Fujimoto made 22 saves for Japan, which had not qualified for the Olympics in women’s hockey since the sport was added to the Winter Games in Nagano in 1998.

Sweden is the only team other than the United States or Canada to have reached an Olympic gold medal game, beating the Americans in the 2006 semifinal and earning a silver.

Group A play continues Monday when Canada plays Finland and the United States faces Switzerland.

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