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Pro Sports

U.S. women’s hockey undecided on opening ceremony

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The U.S. women’s hockey team might skip Friday’s opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics because of an early game the next day.

The team won’t decide until later whether to march with the rest of the American athletes, coach Katey Stone said Wednesday.

“It’s what we call a game-day decision,” Stone said.

The Americans open against Finland at noon Saturday.

Stone said the early game means her team will likely eat breakfast roughly eight hours after the opening ceremony is scheduled to end.

The choice — which Stone described as “a program decision” with input from the players — depends on the team’s preparation the next two days, she said.

“Most of these decisions we don’t make in a vacuum,” Stone said. “We spend a lot of time talking to our kids and we make sure that we address their needs, for sure.”

The U.S. women are a favorite along with rival Canada in the eight-team tournament being played under a new format designed to make early games more competitive. The U.S. is trying to deny Canada a fourth straight Olympic gold medal in a sport that’s historically been a two-country race between the North American programs.

The new format automatically qualifies the U.S., Canada, Finland and Switzerland for the knockout rounds.

But it isn’t changing the team’s approach toward its early games, players and Stone said.

“We try to be crisp, we try to be sharp, we try to be the best-looking team in this whole tournament,” said forward and team captain Meghan Duggan.

Canada comes into the tournament after an abrupt coaching change in December. Dan Church resigned, saying he thought there was a lack of confidence in his ability to win a medal. Former NHL player and coach Kevin Dineen was hired to replace him.

The United States beat Canada four straight games in a tune-up exhibition series, the first win coming the same day Church resigned.

But Stone and the players said they didn’t notice any dropoff in play from their rivals and expect Canada to be ready for the Olympics.

Losses to Canada in the Vancouver Olympics and other big games are still a big motivation for the U.S.

“That burns in your heart every single day,” Duggan said.

“How we prepare ourselves to get here and how we train, everything’s done on the ice, off the ice in preparation to come out of here with a gold medal,” he added

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