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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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Annemiek van Vleuten wins La Course with epic comeback (video)

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Annemiek van Vleuten, the cyclist who returned from a horrific Rio Olympic road race crash to become world champion, repeated as La Course winner with an epic last-kilometer comeback on Tuesday.

Van Vleuten sprinted from several seconds behind countrywoman Anna van der Breggen to win the one-day race, including four categorized climbs, contested on part of the Tour de France stage 10 course later that day.

“With 300 meters to go, I still thought I got second, and then I saw her dying,” Van Vleuten said, adding later, according to Cyclingnews.com, “With 500 meters to go my team director in the car gave up and stopped cheering for me.”

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title, while van Vleuten returned quick enough to race at the October 2016 World Championships.

Van Vleuten, 35, won her first world title 13 months after the Rio Games, taking the time trial crown ahead of van der Breggen by 12 seconds. She also won the 10-stage Giro Rosa that concluded on Sunday.

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Greg Van Avermaet triples Tour de France lead in first mountain stage

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Belgian Greg Van Avermaet more than tripled his Tour de France overall lead in the first day in the mountains on Tuesday, but Wednesday may be his last day in the yellow jersey.

Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a stage in this year’s Tour, claiming the 10th stage that included three first-category climbs and a beyond-category climb but ended with a descent and the contenders together in the peloton.

Van Avermaet finished fourth, 1:44 behind Alaphilippe. More importantly, Van Avermaet crossed the Grand-Bornand finish line 1:39 ahead of a group that included most of the main contenders to top the podium in Paris on July 29.

The Olympic road race champion increased his overall lead from 43 seconds to 2:22.

Van Avermaet has worn the maillot jaune for a week straight, but he is not a climber, and the biggest test of the Tour thus far is imminent.

“No disrespect, but he’s not going to win the Tour,” said Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who is in second place.

The Tour continues with stage 11, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Wednesday (full broadcast schedule here). The 67-mile stage starts in the 1992 Winter Olympic host Albertville and includes two beyond-category climbs. It concludes with a category-one summit at La Rosière.

“Tomorrow’s a climber’s day,” Van Avermaet said. “It will be super hard to keep [the yellow jersey]. … Tomorrow it will be over.”

Chris Froome, eyeing a record-tying fifth Tour de France title, is best placed of the pre-Tour favorites.

Froome is in sixth place and 3:21 behind Van Avermaet. Froome is followed by Spaniard Mikel Landa in the same time and 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali another six seconds back.

Colombian Rigoberto Uran, the 2017 Tour runner-up, finished 2:36 behind the group with Froome, Landa and Nibali.

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