Stars and stripped

By MERI-JO BORZILLERI - THE GAZETTE Updated: February 18, 2006 at 12:00 am • Published: February 18, 2006
TURIN, Italy - Sweden, it turns out, believes in miracles too. In a stunning upset, its women’s hockey team beat the United States 3-2 in a shootout Friday in the Olympic semifinals at the Palasport Olimpico. Inspired by multiple viewings of “Miracle,” the Disney-movie dramatization of the U.S. men’s hockey team’s upset of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, the Swedes turned the tables on the Americans. “We just said, ‘It’s time for another miracle,’” said Maria Rooth, who scored both goals for Sweden in regulation, then clinched the win with a shootout goal. Now the Americans play for bronze Monday against Finland instead of gold against archrival Canada. Canada, 6-0 winners over Finland in Friday’s late semifinal, plays Sweden, 2002 bronze medalists, for the title Monday. The win sent a small contingent of Swedish fans into a frenzy of flag-waving and chanting in the half-filled arena. Swedish players littered the ice with gloves and sticks and hugged each other as the puffy-eyed Americans stood, frozen in shock, and watched them celebrate. Goalie Chanda Gunn (15 saves) quickly left the ice and slammed her helmet on the bench. “I was the only person who could lose the shootout for our team,” Gunn said. “I didn’t want to be there when they were celebrating.” “It hurts right now,” defenseman Angela Ruggiero said. “It stings. I’m in shock.” The U.S. team outshot Sweden 39-18. Sweden got remarkable goaltending from Kim Martin, 19, who said she played the game of her life. Sweden rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first period, tying the score on Rooth’s short-handed goal midway through the second period. The U.S. was 2 for 11 on the power play. “We had our chances and couldn’t bury them on our power play and that might have given them hope,” Ruggiero said. “They just kept battling hard. I give them a lot of credit.” U.S. players and officials have talked about other nations closing the gap. But no one believed it would happen yet. The U.S. and Canada have been head-and-shoulder pads above everyone. The teams cruised to Olympic title games in 1998 and 2002, with the U.S. winning gold in 1998 and Canada in 2002. They have played in every world championship game since the tournament’s inception a decade ago. But with more overseas players developing their games in U.S. colleges, the gap closed more quickly than anyone imagined. The loss was a stunner to the U.S. team, whose coach, Ben Smith, controversially cut veteran stars Cammi Granato, the sport’s all-time leading scorer, and Shelley Looney after tryouts in August. Smith said younger players were stronger. Six months later, the move still rankles Granato, working the game as a studio analyst. Fans haven’t forgotten her. As the U.S. team readied for the shootout Friday, one spectator held up a colorful sign saying, “Hi Cammi.” “Whether we’re missing Cammi Granato or Shelley Looney, you can speculate all you want,” said Jenny Potter, who assisted on Kristin King’s goal. “It came down to this game and we didn’t win.” “I feel like I could help the team,” Granato, 34, said earlier this week. “I mean, I know I could.” The Americans never had lost to Sweden and outscored it 5-0 in two games last fall. At these Olympics, however, they showed a new vulnerability. They blanked Switzerland and Germany, but had to rally from 3-1 down to beat Finland 7-3 this week. On Friday, the U.S. team had its chances. In the second period with the score 2-2, the U.S. had a 5-on-3 power play advantage for almost four minutes and did not score. In the alternate-shot shootout, the first four players failed to score. Ruggiero, shooting third for the U.S., had an open net but missed. She said the puck got hung up in snow on the ice. “I was lucky,” Martin said. Pernilla Winberg, Sweden’s third shooter, scored and Martin saved Krissy Wendell’s shot. Rooth shot over Gunn’s shoulder for the clinching goal. Hello, Sweden. Welcome to the club of the hockey elite. “They had a lot of pressure on them,” Martin said. “They had to win. We had nothing to lose.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0259 or BY THE NUMBERS Until Friday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Sweden, the U.S. women: - Won all 25 meetings vs. Sweden - Outscored Sweden 187-29 - Were 92-0-2 in international games against a team other than Canada
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