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Underdogs’ Day for Women’s Hockey

February 9, 1998

NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ From the bench-clearing celebration, you would have though the Swedish women’s hockey team had won an Olympic gold medal.

It was just one goal. But it came against the United States, favored with reigning champion Canada to play in the final game. And it took the U.S. team half a game to break ahead today on the way to a 7-1 victory.

The Swedish team leaped en masse from the bench when Pia Morelius deflected Therese Sjoelander’s power-play shot past U.S. goalie Sara DeCosta to make it 1-0 midway through the first period.

``They used to do that at home and they shouldn’t do that,″ Swedish coach Bengt Olsson said. ``But I must say I’d be willing, if they had more goals, to have them leave the bench.″

It was Sweden’s only shot in the period _ one of three in the game _ as the team’s defense choked off the United States’ offense through most of the game’s first half.

``I wish we had the same shooting percentage Sweden had against us,″ U.S. coach Ben Smith joked. ``It took us a while before we could solve some of the defensive problems they were throwing at us.″

The United States tied it 6 1/2 minutes later on an end-to-end rush, when Laurie Baker fired point-blank on Sweden goalie Annica Ahlen. But it took the team until 12:39 of the second to break the tie, when Karyn Bye scored the first of her two goals 25 seconds into a two-player advantage.

The U.S. team did get going, scoring every two minutes after that to make it 5-1 at the end of the period. Katie King chipped in a rebound, while Sue Merz and Bye both picked up mishandled pucks in the neutral zone and raced in unimpeded to score.

``We had some black minutes in the second period when they scored four goals,″ Olsson said. ``In the last period, we made some mistakes, too many mistakes.″

Sweden again managed to tie up the United States’ offense until 14:28 of the third, when Gretchen Ulion slipped through the crease to put another rebound past Ahlen. Shelley Looney scored a shorthanded goal from the left circle after grabbing another loose puck.

Japan, in the Winter Games by virtue of being the host country, startled itself and highly skilled Finland with a goal of its own in a fiercely fought game that eventually ended with Finland’s 11-1 victory.

Pathetically lopsided scores perhaps, but in the emerging sport of women’s hockey, scoring just one goal against one of the three longstanding leaders is no small feat.

``It was like the biggest reward for us,″ Japanese coach Toru Itabashi. ``Right after that, we allowed Finland to score three goals because we were not paying attention to defense.″

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