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Defender nets hat trick as U.S. routs Finland to open Four Nations Cup

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WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. (AP) — The Americans breezed through their opener in the Four Nations Cup. Next up is their biggest rival.

Emily Pfalzer had three goals and an assist, helping the U.S. rout Finland 8-2 on Tuesday night in the round-robin portion of the tournament. Canada also had an easy win in its first game, cruising 9-0 over Sweden.

The biggest powers in women’s hockey face off again Wednesday night.

“It’s always one that we look forward to,” Pfalzer said of playing the Canadians again.

The Americans grabbed control against Finland with five goals in the first period, capped by a power-play score for 18-year-old Cayla Barnes. The Boston College freshman is the youngest player on the U.S. roster after she was promoted to the national team Oct. 28.

“That’s why she’s here,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

Amanda Kessel, Dani Cameranesi and Kelly Pannek each had a goal and an assist.

The Americans have won this tournament seven times, including the last two. They improved to 16-1 against Finland in this event with their fourth straight victory.

Jennifer Wakefield led Canada with her own hat trick and an assist. The Canadians took the first 17 shots before Sweden finally notched its first at 4:52 of the second period. Canada finished with as many goals as Sweden had shots.

Canada and the United States met twice recently. The Americans won the first exhibition 5-2. The Canadians responded with a 5-1 win in Boston on Oct. 25.

Stauber would rather get a few more hours of rest before playing Canada. The rivals likely will meet again Sunday for the tournament title.

“We played hard tonight,” Stauber said. “When it’s Finland, Sweden, Canada or any other country, nobody’s just going to roll over. No one’s rolling over.”

The U.S. beat Finland 5-3 in their previous meeting April 3 in a preliminary round at the world championship.

This time, the Americans attacked goalie Meeri Raisanen early and often, outshooting Finland 14-1 in the first 20 minutes. Hilary Knight, who scored the overtime goal to win gold at the world championship last spring, started the scoring 3:52 into the game.

Eveliina Suonpaa replaced Raisanen, and Finland finally started pressuring goalie Maddie Rooney — the second-youngest American.

Isa Rahunen got the puck past Rooney with 46.5 seconds left in the second. Linda Valimaki added a power-play goal with 2:41 left. Pannek went to the box for kneeing Ronja Savolainen, who had to be helped to the bench before going to the locker room.

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Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Skylar Diggins
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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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USA Track and Field to honor 1968 Olympic team on 50th anniversary

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USA Track and Field begins a campaign this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic team.

Members of the Mexico City Games team, one of the greatest track and field teams in history, will be honored at high-profile events the remainder of the year.

The campaign, “1968-2018: Celebrating Athletic Achievement and Courage,” culminates with a “Night of Legends” reunion in December at the USATF Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, also attended by current U.S. stars.

The 1968 Olympic team is most remembered for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took gold and bronze in the 200m and were sent home after raising their black-gloved fists in a human rights salute during the national anthem.

The team also included gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m.

“The legacy of the greatest track & field team to ever be assembled is still felt 50 years later,” USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release. “These Olympians persevered through athletic challenges and social injustices, maintaining their composure and dignity when others may have fallen. It is USATF’s honor to pay homage to their achievements and bring the team together for an epic celebration at our Annual Meeting.”

U.S. track and field athletes will compete at two meets on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold this weekend — the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

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WATCH: NBC Olympics documentary on 1968 Olympics