U.S. women take shot at second hockey gold

Old adversary Canada stands in way tonight

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 21, 2002|By THE DETROIT FREE PRESS

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - Shelley Looney said she wouldn't think about the goal. But the gold? Yes, she said, she would think about the gold.

"You do think about how sweet it is to have it placed around your neck," she said.

Four years ago in Nagano, Japan, Looney scored the winning goal against Canada as the Americans won the first Olympic gold medal in women's hockey. Tonight, the Americans face Canada for gold again.

"Oh, you know I'd love to score the game-winning goal," Looney said. "That would be wonderful. But I don't care who scores it. As long as they're in the U.S.A, jersey, I'm happy."

Canada and the United States are rivals, really the only teams that matter in a sport that has been played at the international level for little more than a decade.

Canada won the first four world championships, beating the United States in the final each time. After Nagano, Canada won the next three world championships, beating the U.S. team in the final each time.

The Americans are 4-0 in Salt Lake and have outscored their opponents, 31-1. The Canadians are 4-0 and have outscored their opponents, 32-3.

Defender Angela Ruggiero said there is "a different tone" in the dressing room before any game against Canada.

"We're usually the best team going into a game, and against Canada, you have to put on your `A' game," she said.

The Americans were the underdogs in Nagano. This time, they're the favorites. While they went 32-0 before the games, they went 8-0 against Canada.

Coach Ben Smith said his team has no recipe for success. "There's really nothing where we can set it at 375 [degrees] and put it in the oven," he said. But if they don't win tonight, their whole season will seem overcooked.

As Canada's Cherie Piper said, "The pressure is all on the U.S.A."

"I like our view from behind," Canada's Tammy Lee Shewchuk said. "Sometimes when you're out in front, you can't see what's ahead of you. We like being the underdog. It's a good thing."

The Americans say they're prepared for the pressure. They understand it.

"In the Olympics, anything can happen," Ruggiero said. "An aerial skiier gets one shot at it. They could train for four years, and they have one flip, and their arm's the wrong way, and they fall. It's the same thing for us. It's not seven games, like the NHL. It's one game. And I think that's why it's so exciting."

In August, captain Cammi Granato brought a Chinese symbol for "united we stand" into the dressing room. Each player signed it, Looney said, to show "we're all in this together."

Last month, Granato brought necklaces with the symbol into the dressing room. The players have since worn the necklaces everywhere, even on the ice during Olympic games.

The necklaces are silver. Tonight, the Americans will try to trade them in.

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