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Women’s hockey team focusing on gold

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After a winning the gold as the underdog in Nagano, the tight knit women's hockey team focuses on Salt Lake.

Russia will field a men and women's hockey team, but the Russian women had better bring their "A" game.

The USA women's hockey team has finished their pre-Olympic tour. How about 27 wins, no losses? What's surprising is eight straight wins over arch-rival Canada. The last match up ended: USA, three goals, Canada, two.

You can bet the Canadians will come back hungry in February, which should set the stage for quite a showdown here in Salt Lake.

Hey, this team is hot. On and off the ice, these women are impressive. They come from Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown. They are smart, tough and as a team, they are tight.

"We have some new players this year that have brought a different energy to the locker room, and it's been fun," team caption Cammi Granato said.

Granato, at 30, is widely held as the world's best player. Natalie Darwitz is the baby of the team. Even she still calls herself a kid.

"I'm lucky to be able to do this. I'm only 18 years old and not a lot of kids get this opportunity to play on the national team and travel around the world and see all the things that we've seen so far," Darwitz said.

Luck. Well, there's a lot more that goes into this team's trouncing of Canada this season. Team USA has won all eight matchups of the pre-Olympic tour, something few would have predicted in September.

"Each game we play againstCcanada is a battle, and we recognize it as such," team member A.J. Mleczko said.

Player Cassie Campbell said, "Losing the gold medal was very disappointing but something that's motivated me for the last four years."

Canada's won the last seven World Championships, but lost in Nagano in 1998, the first time womens hockey was an Olympic sport. Team USA took gold as the underdog.

"98 was a great chapter in my life, it was a great chapter in women's hockey, but now it's done," said goalie Sarah Tueting. "And now we have a new team, and a new goal, and the goal of this team is to win 2002."

Goalies Sarah Tueting and Sara DeCosta are among USA's best weapons, in part because the highly competitive duo has found a way to get along.

"On the ice we're as competitive as it gets, I mean, I want to be the starting goalie, and if she makes a great save at the other end, I want to make a great save, and I want to be that person, and she wants to be that person that's gonna start in the game, but if I ever have a problem with my stance, if I'm getting beat on the glove hand, she's the one I trust," Tueting said.

DeCosta said, "Confidence is so important in teammates and I think us having confidence in each other helps them have confidence in us."

And that confidence is huge when the crunchtime hits.

Competing in Salt Lake City, Granato says is a big plus.

"We've been here so many times it's become familiar to us," she said. "We know where the Olympic Village is, we know what rink we're playing in. Now we've played in it a couple times, we've been successful here, which is a nice bonus."

But it also has its pressures, especially at a time when the Olympics, for Americans, have new meaning. The players have a ribbon on their jerseys in remembrance of those lost on Sept. 11.

"I can't imagine the overwhelming feeling with the crowd behind you, chanting USA, and they're chanting for you and the country," team member Shelley Looney said.

The team was here a few months ago and ran a girls hockey clinic at the Olympic Oval. They see Utah as a place where girls hockey can really take off.