Team for all ages, U.S. women roll on

Darwitz, 18, follows oldest mate's 3-goal lead in 5-0 win over Finland

Winter Olympics : Salt Lake City 2002

February 17, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY - Last game, the oldest member of the U.S. women's hockey team scored the hat trick. This time, it was its second-youngest member.

Natalie Darwitz, the 18-year-old finishing high school by correspondence course, scored three goals in the first two periods yesterday to lead the U.S. team to a 5-0 win over Finland.

"It's just amazing." said Darwitz, who leads the team with six goals in Olympic play. "You dream of scoring a goal in the Olympics. To get three goals in one game, it's surreal."

On Thursday, team captain Cammi Granato, who turns 31 in March, scored three goals in a 12-1 win over China.

Against the Finns, goalie Sara DeCosta was stellar, turning back 21 shots to earn her second shutout of the tournament.

While the defense played tough throughout the game, the offense took time to get untracked. Missed scoring opportunities and penalties kept play fairly even.

At 11:09 of the first period, Darwitz scored on a feed from de fenseman A.J. Mleczko.

The goal got the crowd of 8,507 into the game but failed to awaken the offense.

Strangely, the team came to life with two players in the penalty box. With Angela Ruggerio off for tripping and Tricia Dunn penalized for elbowing, Karyn Bye, Tara Mounsey and Shelley Looney helped DeCosta smother Finland's scoring bids.

Then, just as time on the two penalties expired, Darwitz struck again at 15:19. She took a pass from Ruggerio, who was knocked to the ice, and got the shot off as she was sent sprawling into the boards.

With less than two minutes left in the second period, forward Jenny Potter scored a power-play goal on a pass from Mounsey.

Darwitz's third goal came at 14:12 of the second period, when she took a feed from Krissey Wendell and lifted a backhand shot over goalie Tuula Puputti.

The final U.S. goal came on a power play, with Andrea Kilbourne scoring on a pass from Ruggiero.

Afterward, U.S. coach Ben Smith had nothing but praise for Darwitz.

"Natalie is young in years, but she's played in three world championships and now she's an Olympian." he said. "She has great hockey maturity."

Finland's Puputti, wearing the pads she used to win an NCAA title for Minnesota-Duluth last year, downplayed her 42 saves. "I thought I was ready for this game and I wanted to play a great game against them." she said. "But I didn't show my best today."

Her teammate, Kirsi Hanninen, also expressed disappoint ment. "All that was possible went wrong. We were pretty lost and sleepy today."

In the first three games of Olympic play, the United States has outshot its opponents 120-34 and outscored them 27-1.

As winners of yesterday's game, the U.S. team moves on as winner of Group B and will advance to the semifinal round Tuesday to play the loser of last night's Canada-Sweden game.

The Americans have never lost in international competition except to Canada. But they have tied Finland twice, and nine of the two countries' 22 games have been decided by a goal or fewer, including four of the previous six.

Germany 5, China 5: Michaela Lanzl had two goals, the second with 1:41 to play, as Germany scored three straight third-period goals to rally to a tie.

It gave Germany (0-2-1) the third seed in Group B -- and a matchup with winless Kazakstan -- by virtue of its minus-12 goal differential. China (0-2-1) gave up 15 more goals than it scored. Both teams are out of medal contention.

China will face Russia (1-2) for a chance to play in the fifth-place game.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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