Top US women's hockey player to skip final tuneups

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — U.S. women's ice hockey coach Mark Johnson isn't taking any chances with top scorer Hilary Knight.

That means Knight will skip the final Olympic tuneups this week as she continues to recover from a lower body injury.

Johnson said Knight looked "real good" in practice this week, but that he's decided not to play her Thursday night when the Americans face Finland in their final exhibition at the World Arena.

She'll also sit out the team's scrimmage Saturday night against the Finnish team at the Ice Hall near the USA Hockey headquarters in Colorado Springs.

Knight has 13 goals and 17 assists in 22 games, but has been sidelined the last three weeks. She'll suit up when the Americans begin Olympic competition against China on Feb. 14 in Vancouver.

The 20-year-old Knight, of Hanover, N.H., is the youngest member of the American team that's ranked No. 1 in the world after winning back-to-back world championships and is expected to challenge two-time defending gold medalist Canada for the top spot on the podium in Vancouver.

The Americans have plenty of scoring punch even without Knight. Twins Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux have combined for 22 goals, captain Natalie Darwitz has 11, and Meghan Duggan and Jenny Potter, a four-time Olympian, each have nine.

Johnson, who scored two goals in the Americans' win over the Soviet Union in the "Miracle on Ice" game 30 years ago at Lake Placid, said the U.S. won't hold back on Thursday against the Finnish, whom they'll face on Feb. 18 in Vancouver.

"You get competitive kids and they drop the puck, when we play, we play," Johnson said. "We certainly don't want to get in any kind of bad habits. Obviously, there will be some things in the backs of our minds that the opening ceremony is 10 days away."

The scrimmage on Saturday night will be another story, even though it will be on an NHL-sized ice sheet like those in Vancouver and not the big ice like Thursday night's game at the arena.

"Well, we won't have 5,000 people watching. We might have 50," Johnson said. "You talk to any athlete, the last exhibition game before your first regular-season NHL game, how interesting is it? Sometimes not very."

Johnson said he's been relying on his playing experience in preparing the women's team for the Olympic Games, as well as the lessons he learned from his father, Bob Johnson, who coached the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, and Herb Brooks, who guided the Americans to their stunning gold medal in 1980.

"I'm sure Herb found it, my dad found it, when you play all exhibition games, it becomes a bit challenging because ... you play all these games and they're meaningless," Johnson said. "So, how do you motivate the players? Having played obviously helps that. I can put myself in their shoes on any particular day and I can understand what they're going through."

Johnson isn't much like Brooks, the notorious taskmaster whose hard-driving style was chronicled in the 2004 Hollywood blockbuster starring Kurt Russell.

"The big thing is to make sure you're creating an atmosphere where they want to come to the rink," Johnson said. "Those days when they don't feel like getting out of bed, it's 15 below in Minneapolis, they have to scrape off their windshields and they're not feeling great — that they still want to come to the rink.

"You've got to make sure that they're smiling and enjoying it and it doesn't become work. When it becomes work, then I have to change something," Johnson said. "That's my philosophy. Other people might think differently. That's why we call it a game. It's supposed to be fun."