China closes with win to finish 7th in women's Olympics ice hockey

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China's women's ice hockey team closed out its Winter Olympic campaign on a high note in Vancouver on Monday, beating Slovakia 3-1 to finish seventh in the eight team tournament.

In front of a noisy pro-China crowd at the University of British Columbia's Thunderbird Arena, team captain Wang Linuo scored two goals and Sun Rui added another as China peppered the Slovak net with 32 shots to finish the tournament with one win and four losses.

After getting outscored 22-3 in its first four games, China coach Hannu Saintula said "it was important for Chinese women's ice hockey to win this game" and avoid leaving the tournament winless.

"Three or four of our players have more experience. Our young players really want to help the team but they get nervous. I hope these players in future play a little bit smarter," said the Finn.

Slovakia, long one of the top teams in men's hockey but making its debut in women's hockey at these Games, opened the scoring at 10:37 of the first period when Petra Pravlikova slipped one by goaltender Shi Yao. The Harbin native, however, then shut the door on the Slovaks for the rest of the game.

Wang, China's top scorer at the Games with three of the team's six goals, tied the game at one late in the second period when she beat Slovakian goalie Zuzana Tomcikova with a shot inside the right post.

The goal seemed to lift China as the team came out flying in third and final period. On a brilliant individual effort down the left boards, veteran Sun, a 27-year-old from Harbin, beat a Slovak defender and then circled the net before roofing the puck into the top of the net past a helpless Tomcikova.

Wang then cemented the win when she redirected a Zhang Ben shot into the net with just over eight minutes remaining. The victory was the first for China at the Olympic Games since 1998 when they beat Sweden 3-1 in Nagano.

"We didn't give up. We just wanted to enjoy the game. It was good because we missed the last (Winter Olympic Games)," Wang said. "Today I got a good feeling, we played good hockey."

The 30-year-old said she imparted a bit of wisdom on her younger teammates after the second period when she told them they "need to relax" .

"Also, we needed to focus on our play. We should not think about losing, but we should think about keeping it going. If we continue, we can win this game."

Sun added nerves were a factor as the feeling around the team was they couldn't lose the game to the winless Slovaks. "This was our last game of the Olympics and I wanted to play up to every last second," she said. "It was a pity for us because we only won this game."

With more than 300,000 Chinese living in Vancouver, mainly Cantonese from Hong Kong and increasingly more Mandarin speakers from mainland China and Taiwan, the victory was payback for the strong support the team had received throughout the Games.

Vivian Leung, a Hong Kong native who moved to Canada 15 years ago, said she was impressed by the effort of Team China. "They are pretty good and you could see they were trying hard. The fact that they made it to the Olympics is pretty good and they can only improve," she said.

"Their goalie was pretty good and they got a lot of shots on goal tonight. I don't know much about hockey but I know that you have to shoot if you are going to score goals."

Brian Kwon, a Korean who grew up in hockey-crazy Canada, said he was impressed with the speed of the young Chinese skaters. "They were certainly the more skilled team than the Slovaks. They are very fast on the puck. Their forwards are showing that they've got pretty good stick-handling skills because they were pretty good in the corners," he said.

With Canada and the America currently dominating the tournament and expected to battle for the gold medal, Kwon said to give the China team a few years and they could be a formidable opponent.

"They got people who can skate. They will obviously get better coaching as time goes on and they will start to narrow the gap a little bit with the North American teams."

Hao Jin, a Beijing native who has been studying in Vancouver for the past six months, admitted he knew nothing of hockey before arriving in Canada but called the speed of the sport "awesome" .

"The Chinese team is pretty good. They have only been playing this game for a little while but they play with a lot of heart and the fans really like this. They can only get better."

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