February 7, 2018 / 12:38 PM / 6 months ago

Ice Hockey: U.S. women battle scoring drought as Olympics loom

PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) - U.S. women’s ice hockey coach Robb Stauber knows he has a problem to solve in the days ahead as the Winter Olympic tournament gets underway - getting the puck in the net.

U.S. Women's National hockey head coach Robb Stauber leads his team in a practice in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

An American team that racked up 22 goals in four games to win last November’s Four Nations Cup, including nine against arch-rival Canada alone, is suddenly finding it hard to finish their scoring chances - especially against the Canadians.

In their final run of pre-Olympic warm-ups against Canada in December, they scored only three goals in four games. It is a serious conundrum for a team that, on paper at least, is full of scoring talent.

“Quite frankly, we believe that we can score more than we have,” Stauber said on Wednesday at a Team USA news conference.

“The players understand that, and you will see a team that gets pucks to the net more than we have in the past, and if we do that we really, really like our chances.”

“It’s really a mindset that there is not one shot that we can’t be willing to take because that could be the shot that makes a difference,” Stauber said. “Really a mindset, and I suspect you’ll see that.”

U.S. defenceman Kacey Bellamy, who will be playing in her third Olympics, said the team has to drop a recent tendency to force another pass rather than just shoot.

“I think that’s what it was in the past, we were just trying to make it too pretty, and we’ve worked a lot on just getting it to the net, as much as we could,” Bellamy said.

“We only have to score one more goal than the other team.”

The Americans begin play on Feb. 11, facing a Finnish team that it beat 8-2 in November’s Four Nations Cup.

Coming into Pyeongchang, the American women had been seen as slight favourites to win this year’s competition, something they have not done since capturing the first-ever gold medal in women’s hockey in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, when it became an Olympic sport. Canada has won the last four.

But Stauber and his players remained focused on the first game and would not be drawn on whether they could reclaim their Olympic title from their North American rivals.

“We’re just very, very aware that we’re not going to be the country that falls asleep on somebody else because any country can surprise another team,” Stauber said. “Our focus is clearly the game against Finland because there are other countries on any given night that can win.”

Reporting By Dan Burns; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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